Fr. James Smith, C.PP.S.
As I moved out to California this summer, one of the ways I encouraged friends to visit me was to inform them that I would be living within a short drive of wine country. Come visit me and we can do wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa, I suggested. In a COVID-less world, this would be an easier and more reasonable invitation.
This weekend’s Gospel lands a little less around wine and more towards leasing and tenants. All of the times I have previously read this parable, I have never understood where the tenants were. Why not be nicer to the landowner? It’s not even your land, I may have shouted at a Bible or missalette a few times. But the uniqueness of 2020 sheds a different light this weekend. The trickle-down effects of this pandemic have put somewhere between 20 and 28 million Americans at risk for eviction, at least double those who were displaced over a few years in the foreclosure crisis of 2008.
The tenants of today have a reason for frustration, anger, and bitterness. Jobs and more top the list of things average Americans are losing in the midst of COVID-19. Homes are getting added to that list. Beating, stoning and killing certainly are not justified expressions of these emotions. Violence is not an answer to injustice, as it furthers injustice again and again. The weight of 2020, though, brings another round of loss for those who don’t have land or other possessions to lease out to others to make a profit off of them.
The vineyard the psalmist describes this Sunday is rich for the intersection of tenants and the landowner in the parable with the reality of today: a transplanted vine from Egypt, plucked and trampled by passersby, in need of God’s protection and care. The same God who hears the cry of the poor is the God who planted this vine, who cultivates it to bring forth the fruit of the vine in the chalice, and who offers it freely from the cross to bring reconciliation in our world.
Finding our God in the parable of the vineyard is less of the wealthy landowner than it is the servants who are sent again and again to the tenants. Our God reaches out to us over and over again–from the waters of the Red Sea to the waters of our baptism, from the manna in the desert to the wicker baskets full of bread for the Masses, from the wine offered by Melchizedek to the wine offered in Cana, from the prophets in times of exile to the prophets of today.
We are reminded throughout scripture at times that God’s ways are not our ways. The parable reminds us that our ways of revenge and retaliation are not God’s ways. Our God offers us reconciliation and peace, founded in a love that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious. May we continue to keep our gaze on God’s continued offer to us of this love and reconciliation.
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Fr. James Smith, C.PP.S., is a student at Graduate Theological Union pursuing studies in pastoral and practical theology. A 2009 graduate of Saint Joseph’s College, Fr. James was ordained in 2017. He resides at the C.PP.S. Sonnino Mission House in Berkeley, Calif.