The first Reading from the Book of Prophet Isaiah, (Is 5:1-7), presented us with a poem about a farmer who loved his vineyard and did the best he could for it to yield sweet grapes. It reads, “My friend has a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted choice vines in it. In the middle he built a tower, he dug a press there too. He expected it to yield grapes, but sour grapes were all that it gave.”
In ancient Israel, vineyards had hedges full of thorns around them to ward off intruders. The tower served both as a security post and as lodging for the workers. The grapes were processed in the wine press. In this poem, the vineyard referred to the people of Israel and the vineyard owner is God Himself.
It was God who called the Jewish patriarch Abraham from the Chaldean city of Ur in modern day Iraq and made covenants with him and all his descendants. In all the Jewish exiles, the Lord ensured that they came back to the land of Israel. In this poem as applied to the people of Israel, the Lord was disappointed that despite all he had done for the people of Israel, there was still oppression, injustice, betrayal, murder, and idolatry among them.
The Gospel drew from the first Reading as it continued with the theme of the vineyard where a landowner planted a vineyard, fenced it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. He then leased it to tenants and went abroad. He expected the tenants to make either a monetary payment to him after the sale of the yearly harvest or to give him a percentage of the yearly produce. At the end of the harvest season, he sent his servants twice to collect the proceeds from the tenants. However, the tenants maltreated the servants and caused the death of some of them. He eventually sent his son, who was his heir, hoping that the tenants would respect him, but contrary to his expectation, the tenants caused the death of the son to usurp the business for themselves.
In this parable, the vineyard and its occupants referred to the people of Israel and the owner of the vineyard was God, and the servants sent to collect the proceeds were the prophets. Some of them were maltreated and killed. The son who was sent by the landowner in the parable was Jesus Christ.
Within the context of the New Testament, the vineyard and the occupants would refer to the church and her members who have been reborn by water and the Holy Spirit through baptism. We should offer our lives then as a living sacrifice to God. Each time we are in serious sin, we are crucifying Jesus again! Jesus is the stone that was rejected by the builders but became the key stone. Through his life, suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been redeemed.
From the first Reading and the Gospel, we can deduce that God cares about us. The planting of the vineyard on a fertile soil is symbolic of God caring for us. God expects us to reciprocate his love by living good lives. He gives us chances to repent when we misbehave. This is typified in the story by the landowner sending two sets of his servants and his son to the tenants. The Readings also point to God’s justice. Bad behaviours can lead to negative consequences.
At times, we have said or heard others say that someone has fallen from grace to grass, or what a wasted life? Such comments are made when we think that someone has wasted a golden opportunity to make a difference in the community and in the world. Let us not, through bad choices, ruin the salvation that has been made possible for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp