2016-08-14 Homily. Father François Beyrouti. God's blessings in our hands.
August 14, 2016. Homily. Father François Beyrouti.
God's blessings in our hands.
13th Sunday After Pentecost. The Wicked Tenants.
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-42.
The Lord told this parable: “There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, and put a hedge around it, and dug a wine vat in it, and built a tower; then he leased it to the vine-dressers, and went abroad. But when the fruit season drew near, he sent his servants to the vine-dressers to receive his fruits. And the vine-dressers seized his servants, and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent another party of servants more numerous than the first; and they did the same to these. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But the vine-dressers, on seeing the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and we shall have his inheritance.’ So they seized him, cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When, therefore, the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-dressers?” They said to him, “He will utterly destroy those evil men, and will lease the vineyard to other vine-dressers, who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The Stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone; by the Lord this has been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’”
There are some passages in the Bible that are very easy to understand and do not need much explanation. For example Jesus says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). There is no question what this means and Jesus does not provide any exceptions if on a particular day we do not feel like loving our enemies and praying for them.
Saint Paul also has provides us with some clear and straightforward instructions. In his letter to the Colossians he says: “Put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices” (3:8-9). Saint Paul does not tell us to do these things when we feel like it, but instructs us to do them all the time. As hard as it may be, we should never become angry, malicious, talk about other people, swear, or lie.
There is a story about a priest who was driving away from the hospital and someone cut him off so he honked his horn. A policeman stopped him and said “Father can’t you see the sign. It says ‘Absolutely no honking in front of the hospital.’” The priest answered “Yes officer, I did see the sign, but the Bible tells me that I should never swear so I figured honking was much better.”
These are some examples of Bible passages that are very straightforward when it comes to what we should or should not do. However, there are other sections in the Bible that are less clear. Today’s Gospel is one of them.
Why does Jesus tell a story about a landowner who planted a vineyard, leased it, then sent his servants and son to get his share of the grapes? Although Jesus is interested in farming rights and fair distribution that is not the purpose of the story. In order to understand this parable we need to know that in the Old Testament and the New Testament the vineyard was used as an image of the relationship between God and us.
For example, we read in the book of the prophet Isaiah (5:4) “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? …  For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry!”
In other words, God gives us so much yet we sometimes produce very little fruit.
Jesus also uses this example of the vineyard when he says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.… I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John.15:1, 2, 5).
Therefore to understand today’s Gospel we have to realize that Jesus is speaking about the long loving relationship that God has had with humanity.
The first part of this parable speaks about a man who planted a vineyard and provided everything for it to grow. This is meant to take us back to the book of Genesis where we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The verses that follow tell us how God also provided light, water, land, vegetation, plants yielding seed, fruit trees bearing fruit, and living creatures.
We see here an important parallel. Just as God created the world and everything in it with great care, so too the landowner in today’s Gospel planted a vineyard and surround it with many things. Furthermore, as God placed a man and a woman in the world that He created, the landowner in today’s Gospel leases his vineyard to vine-dressers and asks them to take care of it. Both give their precious treasure over to others and expect that their hard work continue to bear much fruit.
The second part of today’s parable tells us that the landowner sent his servants to receive the fruits of the vineyard but those who were supposed to be taking care of the vineyard ended up killing the landowner’s servants. This is a parallel to the Old Testament prophets that God sent to remind people that God expects everyone to produce fruit in their lives. Unfortunately both then and now prophets and their message are not very welcome.
For example, in the first book of Kings, the prophet Elias says: “for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14).
Also, as Jesus prepares for his death and resurrection He shows that He is the son in today’s parable that the vinedressers were supposed to respect but ended up killing. In His final days Jesus says: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37)
The irony is that Adam and Eve did not appreciate the paradise that God created for them, the people throughout the Old Testament were not always favorable to God’s prophets, and we too do not fully grasp that we live in an absolute paradise that unfortunately we repeatedly abuse.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that as the landowner planted a vineyard and gave it over to vine-dressers, God created the whole world and everything in it for us. We were not an accident but were purposefully created because God loved us, wanted to provide for us, and wants us to bear fruits of goodness in His abundant garden.
We would not be able to understand today’s Gospel without the wider context of the whole Bible. It is important to read the Bible frequently and carefully because some passages are very easy to understand while other passages, as the one we just read, require more digging.
Father François Beyrouti
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870