Cultivating the Fruits of the Kingdom

User’s Guide to Sunday, Oct. 8

Jean-François Millet, ‘The Angelus,’ 1730
Jean-François Millet, ‘The Angelus,’ 1730 (photo: Public Domain)

Sunday, Oct. 8, is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43.

There is an urgency and clarity about today’s Gospel. The message is a sobering one for a modern world that is often dismissive of judgment — and certainly of hell. 

Jesus clearly says that the kingdom of God can be taken from us for our refusal to accept its fruits in our life. Let’s look at today’s Gospel and apply it to the vineyard of our lives.

“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey,” Jesus says in the parable. Note the care and providence of the landowner (God), who has given each of us life and every kind of grace. 

The image of the vineyard indicates that we have the capacity to bear fruit. This signifies the many gifts, talents and abilities that we have been given by God. The hedge symbolizes the protection of God’s grace and mercy. The tower is symbolic of the Church, which stands guard, warning of dangers. That the landowner leases the vineyard is a reminder that we are not our own. We belong to God; we must render an account to him and show forth fruits.

The parable continues, “When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.” 

What fruits does the Lord seek? The values and fruits of the Kingdom: faith, justice, mercy, peace, forgiveness, chastity, faithfulness, generosity, love of the poor, love of one’s family and friends — even love of one’s enemy — kindness, truth, sincerity, courage to speak the truth and witness to the faith, and an evangelical spirit.

Despite all that the owner has done by sending his servants (who symbolize the prophets), the tenants reject them all — and with increasing vehemence; their hearts grow harder. The landowner even sends his own son, but they drag him outside the vineyard and kill him.

Jesus died outside the city gates, murdered for seeking the fruit of faith from the tenants of the vineyard. 

What of us? There are many who reject God’s prophets with growing vehemence and abusive treatment. Many despise the Church, the Scriptures and those who seek to clarify and apply God’s word to moral issues of our day. Repeated resistance can cause a hardening of the heart to set in. In the end, there are some — in fact, many, according to Jesus — who effectively kill the life of God within them and utterly reject the kingdom of God and its values. 

Those who rejected the prophets and murdered the king’s son are put to a bad end and removed from the vineyard. 

Here, then, is the summary sentence: If you don’t want the Kingdom, you don’t have to have it. On one level, it would seem everyone wants to go to heaven. But what is heaven? It is the fullness of the kingdom of God. It is not just a place of our making. It is that place where the will of God, the Kingdom’s values, are in full flower. Many, however, do not want to live accordingly, chastely, forgivingly, generously, lovingly to the poor and others, and focused on worshipping God. 

As the second reading instructs:

 “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.”

The existence of hell is rooted in God’s respect for our freedom, for we have been called to love. Love must be free, not compelled. But, as Jesus warns, at our death, our decision is forever fixed. Choose wisely.

The Alabama State House, located in Montgomery, Alabama.

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