27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I: Isaiah 5: 1-7
Psalm: 80: 9, 12-16, 19-20
Reading II: Philippians 4:6-9
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43
There are a number of questions we might ask ourselves this morning: Are we good stewards? Is God really important in our life? Does God, being in our life, make a difference? Does God, being in our life, make us happy? Does God, being in our life, take away some of our anxieties? Our First Reading from Isaiah and our Gospel from Matthew both deal with the theme of a vineyard. It is a parable — and a parable is a story that makes one see himself in the story, and ultimately answers the question. In fact the Gospel parable is called a mirror parable because when you read it to the people, they will understand if it applies to them.
Parables also apply to us today. So in our parable from Isaiah we see the vineyard and we see the owner of the vineyard. The owner spends all this time leveling the ground, making it right, removing the rocks, building a hedge around the vineyard, and building a watch tower and buying the best vines to plant — and then he waits for the harvest. But instead of a good harvest and a plentiful harvest, it is bad grapes.
The owner was not happy so what does he do, what should he do? That was the question. Now remember Isaiah is talking about the Israelites and hundreds of years before the time of Christ and the Israelites would recognize in this parable — “They are talking about me. And the fact that I, as an Israelite, am not living up to the covenant that God made with us — that is a problem.”
And the parable is then saying to them, “Get your act together.”
Now let’s look at the parable in the Gospel: This time we have the vineyard and the owner is God. God leases the vineyard to the people, and in this case the people are the chief priests and the elders and the Israelites. When you lease something, you are supposed to receive something in return —and in this instance you would be paid money, or you would receive grapes. But what happens? God sends his prophets and servants and they were killed. He sends more of them, and they were all killed. Then God thinks, “I’ll send my son, and they will respect him.” But they kill him.
This was really an allegation against the chief priests and elders who talked a good game about the law, but didn’t really help the people or do what they were supposed to do. When we look at the parables they are really about our salvation history. The parables are about God creating the world, and God creating the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden was perfect. No suffering, no death. And what happens? Adam and Eve commit a sin and sin is brought into the world, death is brought into the world, and here we go.
From then on — the association of man and God in this world was not what it was supposed to be.
But God didn’t like that because he wanted us to have a connection with him. So he continued to send prophets into the world, and to the people, and to the Israelites and tell them, “Here’s what you need to do. I love you, I’m with you, and I care about you.” And God continued to send prophet after prophet. And sometimes the people were good, and sometimes they were bad.
Finally, what does God do? He sends his son, Jesus. And what happens to Jesus? He dies on the cross for us. That’s the good news for us because now salvation is possible for us.
The parables are asking us today, “Are we good people? Are we fruitful people? Are we good stewards? Are we making a difference in the world today?”
What is stewardship? It is giving back what God has given to us: our time, our talent, our treasure, whatever it is — that’s what God wants from us.
Stewardship is a lot of things. One of the questions is: What are the talents and abilities we have, and are we using them not just for ourselves, but for everyone? Our gifts do not have to be monumental: a smile, opening a door for someone, saying “you can go ahead of me” while standing in line at the grocery store. Or if you are driving along and see someone trying to maneuver out of a parking lot — stopping our car and letting that other driver go ahead of us. It is all those little things that make a difference and connect us with other people.
There was a woman who was driving down a country road and saw some teen-agers by the side of the road standing by a cross. Obviously, they had lost someone they loved in a car accident. On the way back the teenagers were still there standing by the cross. She stopped, got out of the car, and asked, “Can I pray with you?”
What difference did that make in their lives? A lot. What difference did it make in her life? A lot. The bottom line is that we are called to share with each other what we have, to make a difference in the world, and to make the Kingdom of God here on earth as often as we can.
On Friday we had the Diocesan Youth Days and it was for the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders from the four Catholic schools. Raise your hand if you are a sixth, seventh or eighth grader and you attended this event. There were 333 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders and 50 Quincy High students who attended. A speaker came from Wisconsin and told the students that as Christians we have an obligation — an obligation we made through out baptism.
In a little while, Conner here is going to be baptized. We have already heard his Mom say, “I’m going to raise him Catholic and I’m going to raise him in the faith.” We heard the same thing from the godparents.
Why are baptisms done in church at Mass? Because through baptism Conner will not only becoming a child of God, he will become a part of this faith community. So it is our obligation to help raise Conner. It will be Conner’s responsibility to help raise us as time goes on.
At the youth conference we learned a lot of things. One of the things we looked at was bullying. What is bullying? Bullying might be shoving someone. Bullying can also be saying something that can hurt another person. That’s bullying. It is our obligation to not bully, and it is our obligation to help others so that they do not bully. It is a community affair. It is a school affair.
One of the statistics we learned was that sixteen percent of high school students consider committing suicide. Sixteen percent. That’s a lot. Why? Because they feel alone, they do not feel connected to anything or anyone, and they do not feel that they are part of the community. And what does community mean? Community means we are a part of something and we belong, whether it’s in a school community, a family community, or whatever it is.
This is Confirmation Sunday and following communion our confirmation students will come forward and stand before this congregation. They will stand here before you because they made a commitment and signed a contract, as did their parents, saying, “We will come to church, we will become closer to God, and we will do service projects to show that we will use the gifts that God gave us to make a difference in this world.”
So the question for all of us today is: Are we good stewards?
We are called to be grateful stewards in this world. We have to remember — Christ is the vine, we are the branches, and everything that we have comes from God. Therefore whatever we acquire, and whatever we do, we need to give gratitude to God for those gifts that he has given us.
Yes. I asked you the question — is God vital to you in your life? I hope you all said, “Yes.” Because if God is vital to you in your life, that connection will truly bring you happiness, and truly bring you peace.
In the Second Reading today from Paul to the Philippians, Paul said we should have no anxiety. Now, I know that is not completely true because all of us experience anxiety at different times. But I will tell you this — if we have God in our lives, and if we truly believe that God is in control — we can have a lot less anxiety because we know that God will take care of us.
So this morning as we approach the altar to receive the real body and blood of Jesus, let us use this nourishment to look within ourselves and ask, “What do we need to do to be better stewards? What do we need to do to be more fruitful? What do we need to do within our homes, within our work, within our school, and within our community?
* * *
Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.