Sunday Homily by Rev. Fr. William Eronimoose MI (Camillians)
God is love. In love He created us. Out of love, He redeemed us. We exist in love and for love, and our vocation is to love. The whole world longs for love, either to love or to be loved. Betrayals, cheatings, and duplicity exist because love has gone astray and love is not given, nor received in God’s love.
Many movies depict love stories and express love through love songs. Even audio or video albums are full of love songs. Usually love songs express joyfulness. Very rarely they express sadness. Were they to express sadness, it would be the result of some love failures; but they would not be called love songs but deceptive love songs. Often they are mixture of joy and sadness due to the tragedies human predicaments bring into and sometimes they are more sad than joyful.
The Bible is a love story which has lots of love songs with happiness and sadness, pleasant and unpleasant episodes, good incidents and bad tragedies, great beauty and pathos, God’s care and concern and people’s betrayal and cheating, God’s nearness and faithfulness and people’s prodigality and infidelity. The readings of this Sunday delineate before us some problematic enigmas, which are too difficult and paradoxical to understand and to digest.
The first two verses of today’s first reading from Isaiah 5:1-7 has a love song, written and composed by God: Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard: my beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and Sunday planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield fine grapes, but it yielded wild grapes” (vv.1, 2).
This is a beautiful love song which expresses God’s joy and sadness. First of all, it expresses joy because God himself has prepared the ground and put all his efforts to make the vineyard apt to do the thing that God wanted. The efforts made by the beloved are so meticulous that the vineyard produces only fine grapes. Secondly this love song expresses sadness because in sp
ite of so much of efforts of the beloved, this vineyard yielded wild grapes.
The Gospel passage from Matthew 21:33-43 has rather a love song with joyful and hopeful beginning in vv. 33, 34 revealing God’s bountiful care towards the vineyard to yield fruits and his entrustment to the tenants’ responsibility. But this love song too has a terrible sad ending in vv. 35-39 because of the betrayal of the tenants who killed whomever the owner sent including his own son.
Both the first reading and the Gospel express a love song that has started with joy but ended with sadness. But the paradox of this love song is that the beloved who was rejected, cheated and betrayed by the people becomes the cornerstone who restores the rejecter, cheater and betrayer back to himself because of his unconditional love for his people.
Now the question is: what happened that the vineyard could not produce fine grapes even though the beloved had done so much of hard work and pruning, and the responsible tenants turned out to be betrayers and cheaters?
The reason is the people did not acknowledge the hard work done by the beloved; they did not accept the beloved; they did not remain in his love; they did not allow the beloved to prune so as to bear fruit (cf. John 15:2). As a whole, they rejected him and even killed him.
The root cause of all this tragedy is on account of two terrible sins they have committed: 1) crossing the boundary, and 2) encroaching the boundary.
1) Crossing the boundary: this sin has taken place when they went out of the way (the boundary) to search for some other source without acknowledging God as their source and end. It is like the jasmine that loses its fragrance in front of the house of the one who planted it; it is like no prophet is accepted in his home town. The hard work done by God was taken for granted and they went out of the way / boundary which was lined and defined by God. Thus, they lost their integrity, justice and righteousness before God.
2) Encroaching the boundary: this sin takes place when our intimacy with Jesus the beloved is encroached by any outside perpetrator. We as vineyard are chosen by God for Jesus and are given to the tenants in order to be taken care of. The tenants are supposed to safeguard us and give us back to the owner in due time. They are not to take us away from the owner but to give us back to the owner inta
Our life as Christians is willed by God to produce fine fruits of justice and righteousness because Jesus is the boundary which should never be crossed, a boundary so strong that we become just and righteous so as to be relied upon. Jesus is the boundary inside which he pitched his tent so that we could remain in him as people set apart to produce fruits. Respect for the boundary without being crossed means our genuflection and acceptance of Jesus as our intimate partner.
In our Christian life, we are already made ready and pruned by Jesus so as to be intimately connected to him. Each priest, each religious and each Christian is made intimate to Jesus by God, whose life should never be encroached by inside perpetrators or outside abusers. Jesus as the fence is so strong that He will not permit us to be encroached. We are set apart, pitched out of, removed from the attack of the world so that tenants like people should not encroach us.
But today crossing the boundary and encroachment are common shameless events of life. In many ways, we don’t remain inside the tent, that is, Jesus and therefore we cross the boundary of ours and that of our brothers and sisters in the journey of Christian life. Outside perpetrators and abusers do encroach this boundary and take us away from Jesus, the tent. As a result, we reject Jesus: we reject him either by stepping out of our intimacy with Jesus in order to search for an intimacy with others or by allowing others to encroach our intimacy with Jesus. By us or by others, this boundary (our intimacy) is not respected and Jesus is rejected.
In spite of
this rejection of ours, the love song of God has a happy interval: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (cf. Matthew 21: 42). Jesus the cornerstone that was made Victim and Offered became the Offering: Jesus the Stone became the Temple, the House of God where we are invited to produce fruits which can be offered to others so that we will become the personification of Jesus.
Otherwise, the love song will have a sad end both as in the first reading and in the gospel: the sad end in the first reading is: “I will remove its hedge, and it will be burned; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled down. I will make a wasteland; I will neither prune nor hoe it and briers and thorns will grow there; I will command the clouds not to send rain on it” (Isaiah 5:5, 6). And the sad ending in the gospel is: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death; the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it (Matthew 21: 41a, 43a).
It is left to us to have a happy ending or sad ending. Jesus comes always in the interval, in the midst of our own predicaments and remains as the foundation, as the boundary, as the intimacy of our life. He becomes the cornerstone inviting us to base our life on him. We are called to build our life on Him and on this cornerstone. And this is our consecrated life and this is our Christian commitment.