Sunday's Gospel Text "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.' So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. -Matthew 21:33-46
I can't help but think of the parable of the wicked tenants in terms of the environmental crises. We are the wicked tenants, stopping at nothing to assuage our greed. I find real shame in the words "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."
The treasure hidden in the field is the Providence of the field itself. As Chrysostom points out, the owner already did all the work. All the tenants need to do is tend it (Meditation One). God gives the gift of earth to all, "amply and in rich measure" (Meditation Two). And what do we do with the beautiful harvest? (Meditation Three).
A vineyard implies a long-term commitment to the land, as well as to people and to generations to come. A vineyard can flourish only in times of peace, giving vines time to grow and fruit to ripen without disturbance. Here is the promise of aged wine, reflective thought, sustained projects, safety, seeing your grandchildren grow up.
The wicked tenants do not value the land, or time, or peace. Blinded by short term greed over reverence, they can not see the beauty of holiness at their own feet.
Meditation One (Introit) Only To Tend And observe also both His great care, and the excessive idleness of these men. For what pertained to the husbandmen, He Himself did, the hedging it round about, the planting the vineyard, and all the rest, and He left little for them to do; to take care of what was there, and to preserve what was given to them. For nothing was left undone, but all accomplished; and not even so did they gain, and this, when they had enjoyed such great blessings from Him.
- John Chrysostom 347-407 Homily LXVIII
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it...
The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.
-James Irwin (commenting on his flight aboard Apollo 15, July 1971)
But finally, after much discourse, I understood what the trees were telling me: Being an individual doesn't matter. Just as human beings perceive all trees as one (didn't a U.S. official say recently that "when you've seen one tree, you've seen 'em all"?), all human beings, to the trees, are one. We are judged by our worst collective behavior, since it is so vast; not by our singular best. The Earth holds us responsible for our crimes against it, not as individuals, but as a species - this was the message of the trees. I found it to be a terrifying thought. For I had assumed that the Earth, the spirit of the Earth, noticed exceptions - those who wantonly damage it and those who do not. But the Earth is wise. It has given itself into the keeping of all, and all are therefore accountable. And how hard it will be to change our worst behavior!
-Alice Walker Living by the Word: Essays by Alice Walker
October, Grimani Breviary, 1490-1510
Meditation Two (Insight) In Rich Measure
To all earth's creatures God has given the broad earth, the springs, the rivers and the forests, giving the air to the birds, and the waters to those who live in water, giving abundantly to all the basic needs of life, not as a private possession, not restricted by law, not divided by boundaries, but as common to all, amply and in rich measure. -Gregory of Nazianzus c.329-c.389
Meditation Three (Integration) Trust And Honor
However, since Jesus is indeed good news, our first response should not be our last response. We need also to reflect on the second and third chances that are offered in the parable. And ask ourselves: What are we going to do with all these beautiful grapes? With all this good wine? With the trust that has been bestowed on us? We are certainly frail, faulty and sinful. Can we also be honorable and keep our side of the lease agreement?
Solidarity, compassion, caring, communion and loving. Such values and inner powers can lay the foundation of a new paradigm of civilization, the civilization of the humanity reunited in the Common House, on the Planet Earth.... Our mission is to celebrate the greatness of Creation and connect it again to the Core where it came from and to where it will go, with care, lightness, joy, reverence and love.
The Last Word
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is now.
Stumbling on the Cornerstone
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. -Psalm 118:22-23
How often it is while straining to see an answer upon the distant horizon