Today we are challenged by another of Jesus’ encounters with the religious leaders of his day. Matthew shares Jesus’ parable of the owner of a vineyard who seeks a return on his investment from the vineyard-workers. The parable unfolds with tales of multiple unsuccessful attempts to get the owner’s share of produce at vintage time, resulting in repeated violent acts – climaxing in the murder of the owner’s son who was sent to obtain the produce! Jesus shared the parable to highlight the building resistance to his challenging message of metanoia, conversion, and unconditional love … His presence, His words and deeds were being ignored.
It’s our wake-up call as well: do we recognize and respond to Jesus in our day? Our faith says that Jesus is present to us in the Scriptures, in the Eucharist — and in one another, especially those in need and those on the margins…the “least, the last, the lost”.
The Gospel reminds us that Jesus’ public life was challenging, even controversial. In his birth in Bethlehem, He was an immigrant, a foreigner. In His ministry, He had compassion for the poor, the sick, those treated unjustly; He helped and healed them. He went against the “rules” of His day, even doing good deeds for others on the Sabbath! Some accepted His words and deeds, others rejected Him and walked away; some even helped spark a frenzy that led to His ultimate rejection and the capital punishment of crucifixion and death.
The words of Isaiah join the words of Paul to the Philippians to encourage us to seriously look at our daily lives and our response to Jesus today. Do we see Jesus present in the young and the old, sick and the healthy, the imprisoned and the free, the poor and rich, the criminals and the law-abiders, people of all races, strangers as well as family members…?? And our response to them? Does our faith in Jesus make a difference? Do we draw close and reach out in love, or turn away in indifference or fear?
Jesus challenges us to “stretch” and generously respond to His presence and His transforming Message of Good News. May we follow the example of those who have gone before us– and lead lives of faith-filled humility, gratitude, and service.
Fr. John Schork, C.P. serves as the Province Vocation Director and also as Local Superior of the Passionist Community of Holy Name in Houston, Texas.