We are stewards of his vineyard

I am once again reminded of a sentiment penned by Khalil Gibran: “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.” I must confess, when I read those words I always think of God and how he loves us so; he loves us so much that he is willing to let us go, in the hope we will return to him.

The wretched tenants

He loves us and out of His generosity has provided each of us with a beautiful vineyard upon which we can produce a bountiful harvest. God left his vineyard in our capable hands, as tenants, to tend and to produce a bountiful harvest.

There is a tendency, illustrated in today’s Gospel, for us to find ourselves infected with a form of over-confidence; it comes with an attitude which blinds us, a kind of “tenants’ syndrome,” which convinces us that we are the true owners of the vineyard. Ironically, we are most vulnerable when we are working most diligently to produce a bountiful harvest.

The recent devastation wrought by hurricanes in Texas and Florida, serve as fresh reminders of the horrors nature can inflict upon us. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, churches sent Katrina relief teams to the Gulf Coast to work on the enormous cleanup and rebuilding effort of flood-damaged houses.

Many of these teams were housed in what had once been a church camp and conference center right on the Gulf Coast.  The wooden buildings had all been wiped away by the wind and the tidal surge, but the brick buildings remained and became the dormitories and cafeteria for the relief workers.

Things went along smoothly at first, but the volunteer staff began hearing from the visitors about the quality of the sandwiches provided for lunch at the work sites and the lack of good snacks.

One day, as the volunteers came to the hall for breakfast, they were greeted by a big chalk board with a message scrolled across it: “This is not about you,” it said.

The “tenants’ syndrome” had worked its way even into this outpost of relief in the aftermath of such vast destruction.  Perhaps for the more perceptive members of the relief teams, a light bulb went on in their heads: “That message, it’s for us, … it’s about us!

Tenants’ syndrome can, and often does, strike when we least expect it, whenever an attitude of complacency and over-confidence washes over us, when it becomes “my” vineyard and “my” harvest.

The tenants’ in the parable demonstrate a delusional mindset. They believe they are masters rather than stewards and their delusion thus justifies their horrific actions. When the landowner demands his rightful harvest, the tenants beat and kill his servants defending their delusions.

And yet, within the parable lies a subtle trap, a snare for the unwary. Jesus says the landowner, after establishing his vineyard, “leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” But notice that the landowner then sent his servants before the harvest, “when vintage time drew near,” not after the harvest. The servants surprise the tenants by coming unexpectedly before the harvest.

We too often forget that we are on God’s timetable, not our own. Harvest time is when God chooses, which means we must always be prepared to give the Lord what is rightfully his. We are expected to produce good fruit in proportion to all that God has gifted us.

Unfortunately, we have often failed to produce a bountiful harvest for the Lord. We have each been given use of a well-prepared vineyard and yet we all too frequently fail to return the owner’s share of the grapes.

What obstacles are there that prevent us from encountering God and responding as we should? Often, we find ourselves hindered by our self-centeredness and indifference.

The more we wrap ourselves up in ourselves, the more isolated we become from God, and the less likely we are to encounter God in our lives. In our conceit we develop “tenants’ syndrome,” deluding ourselves into believing all that we have is ours and ours alone.

The parable of the Lord of the vineyard directs itself to our smugness, vanity and self-centeredness.  Yet, it contains a bit of hope despite its ominous content and warning. As Jean Cardinal Daniélou once observed:

God’s patience has been strained to its farthest limit in this tragedy of Christ, the Lord of the vineyard’s son, rejected by the tenants, crucified, treated by his own people as a stranger and an outcast. But from the lowest depths arises a sudden hope … The tragedy of Good Friday, when Israel rejected him that was sent, becomes in God’s plan the means whereby the vine planted in Israel was to break out in a new and vigorous growth.

When we have labored to produce a bountiful harvest, and are asked to give it up or let go of a portion, our inclination is to resist, to claim the results as solely of our own making, and to conveniently forget that we are only tenants, not owners.

We know from our own experience how hard it is to give up something we treasure. We might object to having to give up our favorite television program. Although we are not asked to give up the television set, or to give up the program forever, we put up a good fight before we surrender the program for that one night. The same may occur if we must forgo a night out with our friends, or have to part with some of our money.

Sometimes it costs us dearly to give up the more precious produce of our lives. When children grow up their parents must let them go. Workers reach retirement age and must give up their life-long occupation and their salary. In old age, many must give up their independence and, at times, their familiar surroundings as they move to nursing homes.  And death may take from us our nearest and dearest. Is it any wonder that we resist so vehemently when we are asked to give up the produce of our lives?

The remarkable thing is that people do give up what they treasure.  Generous people give their time, energy and money in the service of their families and of others in their local communities and beyond. People accept the loss of health and youthfulness and independence, and the loss of those they love.

How much better our world would be if everyone saw themselves, not as the owners of what they have, but as tenants, ready to share the produce when they were asked to do so.

There is a story which offers insight into this parable. It goes like this:

Our little boy came up to his mother in the kitchen one evening while she was fixing supper, and he handed her a piece of paper that he had been writing on. After his mother dried her hands on an apron, she read it, and this is what it said:

For cutting the grass $5.00
For cleaning up my room this week $1.00
For going to the store for you .50
Baby-sitting my kid brother … .25
Taking out the garbage $1.00
For getting a good report card $5.00
For cleaning up and raking the yard $2.00
Total owed $14.75

Well, I’ll tell you, his mother looked at him standing there expectantly, and boy, could I see the memories flashing through her mind. So she picked up the pen, turned over the paper he’d written on, and this is what she wrote:

For the nine months, I carried you while growing inside me, No charge. For all the nights that I’ve sat up with you, doctored and prayed for you, No Charge. For all the trying times and all the tears that you’ve caused through the years, there’s No Charge. For all the nights that were filled with dread, and for the worries I knew were ahead, No Charge. For the toys, food, clothes, and even wiping your nose, there’s No Charge, Son. And when you add it all up, the full cost of real love is No Charge.

Well, friends, when our son finished reading what his mother had written, there were great big old tears in his eyes, and he looked straight up at his mother and said, “Mom, I sure do love you. And then he took the pen and in great big letters he wrote: PAID IN FULL


Homily #143
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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