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Vineyards and the People of God

A Reflection on Mt 21:33-43

By Fr. Serg Kabamalan, CJM

We don’t plan on failures. No one in his right mind would embark on something with disaster or disappointment in mind. We go hoping for the best. We go off the starting block with our eyes set on success.

As we reflect on two parables involving vineyards, one from the Book of Isaiah in the first reading and the other from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, it would be helpful to keep that in mind. Vineyards by itself are tilled with that proclivity. As such, it is a symbol of fruitfulness, productivity, fecundity in both parables. Used as a metaphor for the People of God, we are to understand that Israel is meant to be a showcase fruitfulness to the world so that it could shine in the eyes of all peoples, and attract all the nations into the realm of God.

This fruitfulness is the FULLNESS OF LIFE that God ordained for Israel. Fullness of life should be seen as inclusive of all the aspects of human endeavor: economic, political, social, ecological, spiritual, psychological. It brings to mind St. Irenaeus who said: “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” Brought to communal level, this maxim can be translated as, “The glory of God is the human community fully alive, and life-giving.” Israel was called to be a prime example of a society that would have become a driver and an engine for life-giving.

That kind of fruitfulness and fullness at the societal level, transforming social structures and institutions can only be attained in God, and never by frail and faulty human hands alone. When Israel decided to kick God out of the picture by following their own whims and caprices, desires and preferences, they actually booted out the source of life and authentic joy. With God relegated to “insignificance” by Israel’s Kings and peoples, the vineyard that was Israel produced only wild grapes, i.e., a caricature of life deformed by selfishness, greed, avarice, injustice and oppression of others.

Through Isaiah, God spoke of his judgment to Israel. It would be runover by its enemies, its people would be brought to exile in Babylon, and the Israel of its heyday during the reign of King David would be reduced to a distant memory. The lack of fruitfulness spelled Israel’s doom. But it was not to be their end, for God in his love and mercy gave them another chance. That was when they were allowed by the Persians to go back home and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

But that chance was foiled again. Jesus knew what was happening in his time. That is the message in the parable from the Gospel of St. Matthew. Not only were their fruitfulness in question. The violence in which they have removed God in their lives as they rejected his messengers, the prophets, and the Son of God, Jesus Christ, himself had its consequences: the grace of fruitfulness anchored and rooted in God would be given to those who are open to it to constitute a new People of God.

This is both an encouragement and a warning for us who now belong to this privileged and blessed elect. We are the new People of God. We ought to reflect on the following questions: Are we as his People constantly rooted and centered in Christ? Are all aspects of our lives fully integrated through the will of God? Are we actively living our faith at personal and communal levels? Do we bring our faith at home and at work? Do our best and most intimate friends witness the life-giving ways of our faith in the way we relate with them? Are all our projects firmly set in God’s design for us? Are all our personal strivings connected to our being part of this great family bound by the love and mercy of Christ? Are all our thoughts, words and actions loving and life-giving?

If we answer in the negative in any of these questions, let this be a wake up call. We might be treading the dangerous path of the tenants and reject our Savior and our chance to be truly fruitful in all eternity. Our hope, however, springs eternal as we have a God who constantly reaches out instructs through St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.

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