01 October 2011

A REMINDER OR AN INDICTMENT?

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mt21:33-43

          Good Jews know their Bible very well.  They study it from childhood!  They even memorize key passages from it.  They can easily quote the writings of the prophets from sheer memory!  Thus when the chief priests and the elders heard even just the opening lines of Jesus’ parable today, they surely remembered one of the famous passages from Is 5:1-7 that compares Israel to a beautiful vineyard.  In that passage, which is our first reading today, Isaiah presents an allegory: God owns a beautiful vineyard that is Israel.  Before He builds the watchtower and the wine press, He first cleared it and planted it with seeds of finest grapes.  At harvest time, however, the vineyard yields only wild and bitter grapes.  Through this allegory, Isaiah denounces his fellow Israelites and warns them of God’s wrath.
          Today’s parable, however, does not follow Isaiah’s details to the dot.  While God is still the owner of the vineyard and the vineyard still stands for Israel, it is not the vineyard that fails God this time, but the tenants of the vineyard.  The tenants, to whom God entrusted His vineyard, are the religious leaders of Israel, the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders of the people.  We can just imagine the tension brewing as Jesus gives His lecture today.  And Matthew is keen in informing us that some of those leaders are actually among the listeners of Jesus.  But Jesus speaks the truth about those leaders and His words today fall upon them like a long awaited indictment.
          Truly, the truth hurts, but only the truth sets us free.  Once, I read it from a poster: “The truth sets you free.  But it will hurt you first.”  If we were among those leaders of the Israelites, how would we feel about this very disturbing but honest criticism of Jesus?  Would we respond or would we react?  Would we confess our guilt or would we deny our shortcomings and, instead, find fault at others?  Would we be contrite and convert or would we blame others and be self-righteous?
          Each of us is a leader in one way or another.  What kind of leaders are we?  People are entrusted to our care just as others are accountable for us.  What kind of shepherds are we?  How does the parable of Jesus today sound to us – a disturbing reminder for our good or an indictment we refuse to accept?
          Let us examine our selves, and be no less honest before our all-knowing God.  Where repentance and conversion are needed, let there be repentance and conversion.  Where amending and repairing are called for, let there be amendment and reparation.  Where truth beckons us to freedom, let us move forward, bravely but humbly meeting all the arrows that hurt but truly set us free.  Things will be alright, no need to fret.  We will come out of such a painful but liberating experience as better persons, made even holier by our honest and humble response to God’s merciful love. 
Let us keep our life firmly rooted on Jesus, the “stone which the builders rejected but has become the cornerstone for us.”  Only through Him can we become good tenants in God’s vineyard, for we do not only work for Him.  We work WITH Him.

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