Here is an oldie but a goody.... A man fell over a cliff. As he fell he was able to grab a branch. Hanging on to the branch, he yelled out for help, “Help! is anyone up there who can help me?” Then he heard a voice saying, “ Here I am.... I will help you.” “Who is that?” he asked. The voice said “I am the Lord, I will help you. All you have to do is trust me.” The man said “I trust you... just tell me what to do.” The Lord replies “All right... just let go of the branch.” There was silence for a while, as the man thought about it. Then he asked, “ Is there anyone else up there?”
Today's Gospel is about God’s vineyard. It is not a parable, which makes a single point. Rather it is an allegory, in which all the elements are important. In this gospel story we hear a description of all of salvation history.
Thus the vineyard is Israel... the tenants are the religious leaders of the Jews;
the slaves sent by the land owner are the old testament prophets;
the son is Jesus, the Messiah; his murder is the Crucifixion.
The other tenants that will produce fruit are the Gentiles. The rich harvest refers at least partially to the last judgement.
One point needs further explanation.. the tenants say to one another, “this is the heir... let us kill him and get his inheritance”.
But is this a realistic plan? Consider this.... foreign landlords owned much of Galilee. They hired out tenants to care for their farms. But if the owner died without an heir.... the property became ownerless and could be claimed by anyone, and.... the tenants could easily claim it first. So in Jesus’ day, the allegory was quite realistic and readily understood by the hearers.
Jesus directed this story to the leaders of the Jews who rejected him. Because of their rejection, the kingdom would be given to the Gentiles, as the concluding verse indicates.
The point of this story is not so apparent to us, for we do not reject Jesus. Rather our failure is similar to the man in the story who fell over a cliff and held on to a branch. We do believe and trust God, but only half heartedly.
In varying degrees, we hold onto human ways, and our superficial Christianity.
Are we willing to trust God completely and commit ourselves to him whole heartedly.... or do want to hang on to the branch.
But is it realistic to let go of the branch?
Not if we mean that we have to let go of every human support.... every security for our selves and our families. I do not believe that God expects that of us.
But if it means that Jesus becomes our standard for understanding lifes meaning, then yes, we should let go.
If it means that we are willing to accept all that happens to us in the spirit of Jesus... as we say in the Lords prayer “thy will be done”. Then we should let go.
Jesus assures us that we are children of a loving God, that his love never fails us, that even “the hairs on our head have all been counted”.
His love does not keep our hairs from falling out (as some of us know better than others) (Father John is the only one I know that doesn’t have to worry about that!).
Gods providence does not keep suffering away from us. He only assures us that no matter what happens, his grace will enable us to accept it in the spirit of Jesus.
All this brings us to Jesus’ final words in the Gospel... “the kingdom of God will be.. given to a people that will produce its fruit. The harvest Jesus refers to is not a worldly one , the harvest Jesus wants is us putting our lives in his hands.