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Our Vineyard and Hell
User’s Guide to Sunday, Oct. 8
By Tom Hoopes
Sunday, Oct. 8, is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalms 80:9, 12-16, 19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43.
There are many lessons in today’s readings, but one is the answer to an age-old question: How could a loving God be responsible for hell? How is it possible that God would create us to love him and then have such a drastic response to our failure?
These are questions that have rattled many a child’s faith — and many adults’ too.
We have probably all heard the answer: God gave us free will. He didn’t want robots who do his will; he wanted real love, which requires real choice. But if something about the question remains compelling, maybe today’s Gospel can help.
“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,” it begins. The place it describes sounds beautiful: a kind of secret garden with wine.
The beautiful place belongs to the landowner, but he leases it to tenants to enjoy in his absence. All they have to do is the work that needs to be done — good work making wine.
But when the landowner sends his servants to get some of his produce, the tenants attack them, killing one. The landowner tries again with the same result. “Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’” No. The kill him, also.
The landowner is forced to an extreme response. His tenants won’t stop attacking their benefactor. They have to be eliminated.
At one level, the story is about the Jewish people who reject Jesus Christ. But the story applies to every one of us, as well. God the Father has set us each up in a corner of his vineyard and given us a little work to do there. He sends us messengers to remind us of our duty. How do we treat them? Do we accept them or banish them from our lives?
He sends Jesus to us, too — God’s own son.
It’s not the Jewish people who killed Christ; it is us. “Every single sinner, that is, every human being, is really the cause and the instrument of the sufferings of the Redeemer,” says the Compendium of the Catechism (117), “and the greater blame in this respect falls on those above all who are Christians and who the more often fall into sin or delight in their vices.”
Do we always accept Jesus as God’s Son, or do we often reject him? But hell shouldn’t frighten us, with heaven before us. The second reading gives us a vision of what our life in the Father’s vineyard can be like. “Keep on doing what you have learned and received,” writes St. Paul. “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at
Benedictine College and
author of The Fatima
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