Every time this passage comes around, I feel a little embarrassed. 30 years ago, I was a young upstart. I had turned around a desperate start to my work life. Unappreciative of it being a blessing, I became cocky and arrogant. I was thrashing the vineyard with my unruly behaviour. One day a Catholic colleague took me aside, not to admonish me, but to gently invite me to channel my energy into serving the Church. He did not deserve the answer I spewed out. I had killed the servant.
“There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third.” (Today’s Gospel)
The world is our vineyard. Each of us has a plot in the vineyard. We live our life in a situation, plot, unique to oneself. No two persons will have the exact same plot. This is the complexity of life. But it also means that God, the landowner, has for each of us a special and unique role in life. Our lives in this complexity is interlinked. We are seldom called to do big things, but little acts that only we can do in our unique situation, to impact the life of the other.
God has placed us in this world to do his bidding. We are to live good lives that will bear fruit and make good wine.
“Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do.” (Second Reading)
We are sent as servants into the lives of our neighbours. We go into our neighbour’s plot when help is needed. God has meant for our lives to be intertwined like the vines in the vineyard. We are also sent as servants, like my colleague to me, to correct the behaviour of others in gentle ways. Because it will only be in such corrections where they will see the son of the landowner coming into their lives. If not they too will unknowingly reject the Son of God, and unwittingly prevent the seed of faith from taking root.
“It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone.” (Gospel)
Thailand has vineyards. Who would expect this country to produce wine? The wines here will probably never get a high rating; the natural conditions are just too difficult to be conducive for good-rated wine. But with improving technology and know-how, they continue to try, maybe more in hope than in faith. Over the past years they have been producing better wine, maybe still not pleasing the palates of the judgemental world, but they have certainly pleased their landowners. There is fulfilment in effort.
God’s thoughts are not Man’s thoughts. God does not demand that we produce best-rated wines. That is his job. God only expect that we put in maximum effort in the little parts that we play in the vineyard of life. God himself will put all our efforts into the wine press to produce the best wine. Like every high-rated wine, every little complexity is vital. Our effort matters, even if they seem very small in the eyes of this judgemental world.
In our own plot, in the happenings of our life, we will discover the purpose of our daily toil. Accept and forgive ourselves our personal mishaps as I have done for myself. Age is a friend of wine. It is only with age when all our accumulated effort and experiences, both good and bad, will develop us into the best vintage. Not all of us are purposed to build wineries. For some we will spend our entire life merely to plant a seed. But the landowner will be equally pleased with both. He judges effort.
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time