27 Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 21:33-43
October 4, 2020

I know next to nothing about grapevines. So, when Sacred Scripture sets a lesson within a vineyard, I find myself straining to conjure up an image to support “The Word.” But it doesn’t take a “Gallo Brother” to appreciate the gravity of God’s message to Israel set out in our First Reading:

Produce good fruit or you will be leveled.

“The chief priests and elders of the people” to whom The Lord directed yet another “vineyard” parable, whether or not they knew anything at all about growing grapes, were certainly aware that the story carried a dire warning directed at them. Sadly, what we have here is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So threatened by The Jesus, they did kill The Son, Whom The Father had sent. And, eventually, The Temple was leveled.

But, The Word of The Lord is alive. It carries a message for every person in every day and age. Leaving the weight of this week’s Readings on the shoulders of Israel is to miss an opportunity to hear what God is saying to each of us here…and now! Maybe it helps to update the image.

As I said, I know next to nothing about grapevines. I do, however, know something about cherry tomatoes. At least I thought I did.

This past spring, I bought a very healthy little cherry tomato plant. I found a proper container and a trellis to support what I envisioned would become a vine loaded with fruit. I bought a bag of “pricey” potting soil, supposedly fortified with all the nutrients any plant would need. I located the pot in a sunny area near my front door so that I would remember to water the plant. And I did. I watered it faithfully, but…I did nothing else.

The vine grew in every direction. It grabbed onto everything but the trellis. It grew up the leg of a lawn chair and invaded a flower bed. It crawled up a nearby shrub. But it produced very few little yellow flowers…and so precious few cherry tomatoes. I’m guessing all of its strength went into exploring and attempting to dominate its surroundings.

Remarkably, this all happened without me noticing that things had gotten out of hand. Had I simply taken the time to guide it and give it proper direction by fastening it to the trellis, and had I done a bit of pruning what was sapping its energy and life, maybe I would be eating cherry tomatoes right now.

Baptism is the gift of new life in Christ. It brings with it the promise of abundant fruit. But, we can’t expect to accept this wonderful gift and simply enjoy the harvest. As we grow in faith, we need structure, guidance, support, and proper nourishment.

Our Church and our Sacraments provide both direction and nourishment. If we neglect our spiritual life and “grow out” on our own, in every direction but UP…our lives are in danger of becoming barren…fruitless. And Isaiah tells us the consequences of a low-yield harvest.

In our Second Reading this week, St. Paul offers us an excellent plan to ensure a fruitful spiritual life: prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. These are certainly fine ways of nurturing our relationship with God. It is important to remember, however, that Baptism also means that we are called into relationship with fellow believers.

Think of it this way:

There is a limit to what a single plant, even when properly cared for, can produce. Had I done all the right things with my little cherry tomato plant, the most I could have realistically expected would be few good salads. But a garden, like a vineyard, when properly cared for, has the potential for a bountiful harvest that can feed a whole community.

Hopefully, this “updated” image helps us hear and appreciate the message these Readings have for us today. Because of the pandemic, Bishops around the world have given dispensations to the faithful regarding Mass attendance. Many have maintained a prayer regime at home; others…not so much. Even those who have continued to communicate with God are still missing the interaction with one another. The structure and support of the Christian Community is essential to keep a faith-life growing in the right direction. Left on our own, we tend to move in the wrong direction, without even noticing it.

There is concern by Church leaders that once the pandemic is fully controlled, folks will not return to the guidance, protection, and fellowship of our parish communities. It is worth noting that, by ourselves, our capabilities are somewhat limited. Working together as a family of faith, we have the ability to produce an abundant harvest. That is what we owe The Son when He returns to collect what we have produced…an abundant harvest.

Let us pray, then, that those who have felt compelled to absent themselves during this health crisis, as well as those who have simply “grown in another direction,” for whatever reason…will return soon. Let us work together to give God what is right and just. And may all people experience the Peace of God…Amen!

In the Introduction to a Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales cautions:

“What a sad thing it is to see that most people never even bother to think about the reason for their existence, but live as if they believe themselves created only to…. pile up wealth or do frivolous things. Consider your own past life. Say, ‘Lord, what was I thinking of when I was not thinking of You? Whom did I love when I was not loving You? I should have fed upon the truth, but I glutted myself with vanity and served the world instead of serving the truth.’”