In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus continues to call the nation of Israel, particularly the
leadership, to account for their behavior and lack of faithfulness. Matthew chapters 19 –
22, they are testing Jesus and He is testing them. He will unleash judgement in chapter 23,
and finish that chapter by weeping over Jerusalem and their refusal to respond to
Him. When we are angry at someone we love, underneath that layer of anger is a deeper
well of sadness. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn (Matt 5:4)” and now He shows
what that means.
Matt 21:33-43 reflects the history of Israel. God gave them the nation, and called them to
follow His teachings. Jesus compares God to the owner of a vineyard, who provided for his
vineyard owners, and calls for a return. God sent the prophets to call the people to
faithfulness, but many were beaten, mistreated, and some were killed. Jesus was the Son
who was sent, and He would be killed. This rejection of God’s call would have
God has given us many blessings, and calls us to give a response, not because it would
benefit Him in any way, but because a love relationship with Him is the greatest good for
us, and we cannot be in such a love relationship without responding to His love with our
What are we called to do in response to God’s gifts? The Scriptures for our next three
Sundays will serve to highlight three areas of response: Worship, Christian citizenship, and
love of neighbor. These are, of course, interrelated (everything is connected to everything
else), but we will take them one at a time for clarity. These are not multiple choice, of
course. It is common nowadays for some people to pick the parts of the practice of the faith
that they like and leave the rest.
In any love relationship, we seek the presence of our Beloved, and seek to express directly
our love, admiration, and other aspects of our stance toward the one we love. We are not
fully responding to God without worship, and worship according to His teaching. The
central act of worship that God gives us is the Eucharist. We can discuss this in the context
of call to the banquet next week.
In any love relationship, we must be willing to do things that please our Beloved, and with
God that cannot omit helping people in need. Two of the ways we can do this are
exercising our citizenship driven by our Christian consciences, and directly helping others
with our resources. We can discuss these in the context of rendering to Caesar what is
Caesar’s and rending to God what is God’s, and the greatest commandment.
To be good tenants in God’s vineyard, we must have some understanding of how to grow
grapes. Imagine vineyard workers who did not understand how to plant, cultivate, and
harvest grapes. They might put in a lot of effort, but not produce much fruit. We have read
that in a recent Pew poll only 31% of those who call themselves Catholic hold the Catholic
belief about the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Robert Mixa in a recent Word on Fire blog
said, “The recent ‘State of Theology’ survey alarmingly demonstrates that US Catholics are
far from uniform in believing in the divinity of Christ. In fact, many tend not to believe in
his divinity. When confronting the statement ‘Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not
God,’ a shocking 30% of Catholics ‘agree,’ 27% ‘somewhat agree,’ 9% are ‘not sure,’ 12%
‘somewhat disagree,’ and 22% ‘disagree.’” These are among the most basic, fundamental
truths of the faith, and if we are going to be productive tenants in God’s vineyard, we shall
need to open (much) more widely the wonderful treasure that is the Catholic faith. This is
why I am such a fanatic about Catholics learning more about their faith (If you think I talk a
lot about it, you have no idea what I would be saying if I really opened up).
God is calling. How will we respond?