When I think of a vineyard, I think of visiting a winery and tasting their selections or of enjoying a nice glass of wine with friends over a leisurely dinner. It’s a luxury that many of us enjoy. For the people in ancient Israel, however, wine was not a luxury but a necessity and vineyards were as important as wheat fields or sheep folds. Since their water was often impure, they had learned that adding a little wine to the drinking water made it safer to drink. They didn’t know anything about the alcohol in the wine killing the harmful germs in the unpurified water. They just experienced that they didn’t get sick as often if they mixed wine with their water. So, most families had their own vineyards that they tended just as carefully as they tended their wheat fields and sheep folds. It’s important to know this as we reflect on today’s lesson that God presents us in the sacred scriptures.
In two of today’s readings, we hear God teach us about himself and his relationship with us through the imagery of a vineyard. God is showing his people his great care for them, offering them life-giving water, purified by the wine. In both readings, we hear about a vineyard that was built with meticulous attention, the owner clearing the land of stones, protecting it with a hedge and watch tower and planting it with the choicest vines. In both accounts, the vineyard owner is clearly God and those he has charged to care for it are his beloved; either the people Israel in the first reading or the chief priests and elders in the gospel. And, God expected a good return from his vineyard. Instead, all he got was wild grapes or tenants who not only refused to give him his share of the crop but actually mistreated and even killed some of those he sent to collect it. And, how does God respond? Either by destroying the vineyard – as we hear in the first reading – or giving it over to those who will give him his due – as we hear in the Gospel.
The message was very clear to the people of ancient Israel and is equally clear to us, isn’t it? We gather together to worship God whom we will acknowledge in just a few minutes – as we recite the Creed – is the creator of heaven and earth. All that we have is a gift from God and we are called to return to him what is his due as we work in his vineyard.
In today’s second reading, we hear St. Paul encourage us to keep on doing what we have learned and received and heard about God through his son, Jesus Christ. He assures us that we should have no anxiety but should simply make our requests known to God. That’s a very important lesson for us right now, isn’t it? There are so many reasons to be anxious today in the face of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the war that just erupted between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the uncertain financial and political picture and many of us are trying to understand what God is trying to teach us now. St. Paul assures us, however, that, if we put our trust in God, his peace that surpasses all understanding will fill our hearts and minds.
We are so often tempted to think we have made our own vineyard and that we are in charge of all that we have made. We’ve worked hard to get what we have and think it’s all due to our hard work. But, it’s God’s vineyard and he has a plan that often surpasses our understanding. And, he gives us means to begin to grasp his ways: Sacred Scripture, the Church, our own prayers. Most clearly, he gives us the Eucharist, the free gift of his Son, who died for us in obedience to his heavenly Father’s will and offers us his life-giving Body and Blood for our spiritual nourishment. He offers us his Spirit – at our baptism and, in its fullness when we are confirmed – to lead and guide us, to strengthen us and give us his peace, even in the most challenging times of our lives.
Yes, it is in God’s vineyard that we find ourselves. It is his work – the building up of his kingdom here on earth – that he calls us to do; we heard that in last week’s gospel. And, God expects a generous return for all the hard work he has put into preparing the vineyard for us; we hear that message very clearly today. Let us be grateful for the choice vines he has planted and make sure to give him an abundant yield. Then, he will invite us to his heavenly banquet in his eternal kingdom, where the wine will be the best ever and it will never run out!