By Rev. Father Peter Konteh
Anyone who has ever lived in a rented accommodation knows the importance of being on good terms with the landlord: pay the rent as and when due, keep the place always clean, don’t damage anything, and don’t be a pain to your neighbors. The rules are very clear! Otherwise, you risk warning letters, lateness fees, eviction, and a possible date at the court. Today’s Gospel shows us a different kind of landlord – one who is extraordinarily patient with his destructive tenants. He cares about them, above and beyond the call of duty, and he gives them innumerable chances until he can give them no more.
The parable is about the religious leaders of Israel who saw the Lord’s vineyard as their own personal estate and did whatever they liked. They fed on the grapes they were meant to cultivate for the Landlord. The landowner sent two sets of messengers to his vineyard, but they were killed by the wicked tenants. These symbolize the prophets that came before and after the exile. Finally, the landlord sent his own son but, instead of respecting him, they conspired to kill him. He expected justice and integrity but there were only bloodshed and cries of agony. How does it feel when we make huge sacrifices for others and they end up paying us back with ingratitude, insults, and even hatred? This is what sin does in the sight of God.
Nevertheless, we must realize that all good things in life come from God. It’s so easy to get angry and question why God would allow bad things to happen. Perhaps we should switch our focus to why good things happen. Why am I still alive? Where is there any good in the world at all, where did it come from? We should think more about the answers to such questions, and today’s readings come in handy. Gardens are primarily designed to help plants stay healthy, reach maturity, and bear abundant fruit. The human soul is designed to be a garden of virtue. Just as the Lord provided the vineyard with air, sunlight, water, soil, the wall to protect it, and the tower to guard it, so he supplies each one of us with life, talents, opportunities, family, sacraments, faith, knowledge, conscience, and the guidance of the Church. God is the origin of everything that is good, and one of the very best things that he gives us is his mercy, his patience.
Today’s Readings show how many chances God gives his tenants to do the right thing, to fulfill their duties, to achieve their purpose of being there. When they don’t do what’s right, God sends different messengers, including his own son. In fairness, however, he didn’t have to send any. He could have evicted those selfish stewards right away. But God is patient with our sin and selfishness. He keeps giving us more and more chances, much more than we deserve. He never gives up on us, even though sometimes we give up on ourselves. God’s boundless mercy is the best evidence of his immense goodness. The more deeply we realize this fact, the more joyful we can be. Joy is the excitement that comes gaining something good. The joys of this world are fragile and short-lived, even as life in this world is fragile and short-lived. But God’s goodness, his self-giving and unconditional love for us, is unchanging, stable, constant, eternal. The more we realize this and lay claim to it, the more joy we will experience and the more constantly we will experience it, coming gradually to discover what St Paul describes in the Second Reading as the peace that is beyond human understanding.
How then can we deepen our knowledge and conviction of God’s limitless goodness? St Paul is clear it is offering to God all our worries, thanking him for all our gifts, and contemplating all the good and noble things that we have been blessed with. The devil will always take advantage of our own selfishness to cloud our minds with complaints and problems so that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s only by consciously lifting our hearts and minds to God, every day, throughout the day, can we gradually come to root our lives in the deep, rich soil of God’s goodness.
The Lord is surely merciful beyond measure, as he gave the tenants several chances to repent while sending them prophet after prophet. But ultimately, they were held accountable for their moral conduct. We too should be mindful that each of us will account for our stewardship someday. Let everyone do some introspection! Am I truly living up to my Christian calling? We must not get so used to sin as to forget how destructive it is. Sin is a rebellion against God; it is an attempt to take God out of the equation so we can make our own rules on morality. Sin, as the crucifix shows us, is an attempt to kill God. It cuts us off from our very source of existence, like an astronaut on a spacewalk who cuts away his lifeline. A sin-ravaged soil yields only the sour grapes of corruption, immorality, meanness, sadness, and despair.
The solution lies in repentance at all levels. God’s mercy is like a waterfall, a rushing mountain spring, an ever-flowing fountain. The only thing that keeps us in our thirst is our stubborn refusal to drink from this fountain. This takes us to our prayer life. Does it consist merely of saying prayers? Does it include heart-to-heart conversations with the Lord? Do we make out time to reflect on the promises of God in Sacred Scripture? Therefore, as we renew our faith in God’s boundless goodness and mercy at this Mass, let’s also renew our commitment to being Christians worthy of our name, Christians who love Christ enough to spend some time with him in personal prayer, every single day. May the Lord help us to keep the resolutions that we are going to make today. Amen!
About the Author: Father Peter Konteh
Father Konteh is an ordained Sierra Leonean Catholic priest who also serves as vice president of Caritas Africa and executive director of Caritas Freetown (and the Catholic Development Office of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Freetown).