Serving Compassion

Homily for October 8, 2017 (27th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

If you’ve ever thought about owning a vineyard, prepare for a serious investment of time, money and work.  Farming in general is a tough business, and cultivating grapes and making wine are no exception. According to Market Watch! here in the United States, just the land for a vineyard in Michigan will cost at least $10,000 an acre, and if you want to purchase some land in California’s famed Napa Valley, you had better be prepared to spend up to half a million dollars an acre! 

Remember, that’s just for the land.  Don’t forget that you will need to buy the equipment and hire the workers needed to plant, cultivate and harvest the grapes, press them, and store them.  You will also need to have some time on your hands.  It can take three years for vines to begin producing quality grapes, and it can take another year for the wine to age in barrels before it’s ready for consumption and sale.  Being a vintner or the owner of a vineyard is not for the faint of heart or the light of wallet. 

As we heard in our first reading and gospel passage, this has always been so.  In each of them the owner of the vineyard (God) does a lot of work to ensure that his vineyard is productive.  In Isaiah’s version, the owner cultivates the soil, clears it of rocks, plants “the choicest vines,” builds a watchtower to protect it and makes a winepress.  In Jesus’ parable, the owner plants the vineyard and puts up a hedge and tower to protect it. Then he entrusts the land to tenant farmers to produce a worthy crop.  In both parables, however, the results are disappointing to say the least:  wild or sour grapes in Isaiah’s version and rebellious and murderous tenants in the other. 

Parables in the Bible are designed to sneak up on us.  As we read or listen to them, we are compelled to render a judgment.  However, if our hearts and minds are open, we soon realize that we are called to reflect on our own lives and judge ourselves at least as much as the the people in the story.  Today God asks us to remember that, individually as disciples of Jesus and collectively as a church, we are God’s vineyard!

Which begs the question: What return are we making on all of the talents, graces, mercy and love that God has showered upon us from the moment we were conceived?  A good vineyard can be very productive.  When Robert Mondavi, the child of Italian immigrants, opened his Napa Valley winery in 1966, the land was a lot less expensive than today.  But it still wasn’t cheap:  over $7500 per acre in today’s dollars.  But his investment paid off.  Less than 40 years later he sold the Mondavi Winery for $1 billion. 

St. Paul invites us in our second reading to cultivate virtues like truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, graciousness and to share the fruits of those virtues with others.   As we have seen all too often in places as diverse as Myanmar and Las Vegas, our world desperately needs to drink of the wine of compassion.  What do we have to serve? +