Sunday the Twenty-fifth

I am the Savior of all people, says the Lord. Whatever their troubles, I will answer their cry, and I will always be their Lord.

The Lord is near to all who call upon Him (Psalm 145).

     “When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.' When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat.' (Matthew 20:8-12).”

When you heard the parable proclaimed this Sunday, how long did it take before you protested the way the landowner treated the workers hired early in the day? Let’s face it: as human beings we have radar that runs 24/7/365 analyzing life – particularly others’ actions – for fairness. We boldly assert: I am entitled and I demand to be treated fairly. Life, however, is not always fair and the sooner we learn that lesson the better able we will be to handle life’s unfair side. Yet no matter how young or old, sophisticated or unsophisticated; no matter how mature or immature, there is a part of us that balks when another does not deal with me in a manner that I judge to be fair. This certainly was the response of those vineyard workers hired early in the day. But before tackling the work-rules and employment practices of the landowner, it will be helpful to examine vineyards in the biblical era. We are not only ‘in’ a vineyard this week courtesy of the Gospel proclamation, but will be for the next 2 Sundays.

Of all the agrarian imagery employed in the Scriptures, there is a good chance that people in our parishes might be more familiar with vineyards than with other aspects of farming or herding in the Scriptures. In backyard gardens, people do not scatter seed the way the Sower did in an earlier parable. Not many have sheep grazing in their backyards. Yet a number may have driven past a vineyard and certainly many more enjoy the fruit of the vineyard, especially in liquid form (my preference, red blends!). What we may not know is the work required to transform land into a vineyard as well as the work to sustain a vineyard.

When it comes to a vineyard, the 3 laws of real estate apply: location, location and location. The locale must be sunny, but not too sunny. The locale must be near water or at least be easily irrigated manually, but not too much water. The soil has to be ‘just right’ to provide a proper environment for growth, water and even air to prevent root rot. As the vines grow, they need to be carefully attached to supports or trellises yet not too tightly that halts growth or kills part of the vine. At least 1 person in the vineyard (hopefully there are more) must be competent to prune the vines. Cut the wrong leaves or vine sprout and the vine dies. Let the vines grow wild and you will have no fruit [and no fruit means no wine :( ].

From these observations alone, the vineyard is a place where life is different (or set apart). What happens in the vineyard is different from life in the town square, market place or even home for that matter. The ‘different’ way life is conducted in the vineyard is not really a question of good or bad, positive or negative. The different way of life that is the vineyard is simply a fact of life if one wants grapes and perhaps an animal skin or two of wine, hopefully and all in due time. Work in the vineyard has to be done according to a manner appropriate for growth of the vines. Tending the vineyard the way one tends the farm or the herd of sheep will result in a poor yield of grapes, if any at all.

The vineyard is a place that requires balance. Sun, water, soil, air, support and pruning – to name only a few realities expressive of vineyard life – must all be held in balance. Balance applies to each element as well as in relationship to each other element. For example, there must be sun, but not too much sun. Sunlight must also be balanced with water. Pruning the vines, a necessary action, must also be done with a view towards supporting the vine. You don’t want to cut a vine sprout that can serve as an anchor point to the trellis or support posts.

It’s no wonder then why among a few of the Fathers of the Church, the vineyard was viewed as a ‘place’ for believers to gather. In time, church buildings – concrete edifices of the Church community – were seen as places where life was different. What we did in spaces set apart for worship were (and are) intended to assist in living a balanced life. In the age of the Fathers of the Church, a ‘balanced life’ was synonymous with the ‘virtuous life.’ In this approach, the vineyard is a place where virtue is cultivated and cared-for so that it can branch out into the world and transform a plethora of attitudes, such as entitlement: a diabolic attitude that workers hired early in the day forgot to check at the gate when they entered the vineyard.

Certainly, there is no dichotomy intended here in presenting the vineyard as a balanced, set-apart space with its own way of living and the world. This is not a ‘vineyard against the world’ mentality. Ideally, life in the world must manifest the balanced, set-apart life of the vineyard. Yet we are a pilgrim people, not completely ‘there’ yet. In the meantime while being drawn into a balanced, set-apart way of living we can be thankful for those special places in our lives built to remind us not just the Lord’s loving presence, but a presence that commands us to think, to speak and to act in a particular way as cultivated in His Vineyard.

guide us, as You guide creation
according to Your law of love.
May we love one another
and come to perfection
in the eternal life prepared for us.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment