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Vineyard“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. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way” (Matthew 21:33-36).

The owner of this vineyard entrusted it to the tenants without any supervision. He did not dictate how they should cultivate the land or protect it. He trusted them to do what was best, just as God has created us, given us life, and trusted us to live our lives in the best way possible. He has entrusted us to care for one another. He has given us gifts of freedom, creativity, and compassion. It is up to us to use our gifts to bring about a better world.

Jesus told this story during his final days on earth. This part of the narrative is the introduction to the fifth and last of Jesus’ sermons recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. The religious leaders whom Jesus was speaking to knew that the vineyard stood for Israel and that the owner represented God. In his parable, Jesus depicted the tenants (the religious leaders of Israel) as killing the messengers (the prophets) whom God had sent again and again. When Jesus added to the parable that the tenants killed the owner’s son, he asked the religious leaders what the owner would do to the tenants.

They answered, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give them the produce at the proper times” (Matthew 21: 41). Jesus agreed with them, quoted a psalm, and said, “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:43).

The Gospel According to Matthew was written after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the audience was made up of converts from Judaism and paganism. They understood the reference to the son as referring to Jesus himself. So, in giving the kingdom of God to the people who produce fruit, he was putting his trust in them.

With trust comes responsibility. We have the responsibility to do the best we can with the gifts God has given us. We are entrusted to care for one another and bring the message of God to those we encounter.

God is patient. The owner of the vineyard sent messenger after messenger and never punished the tenants. In the same way, God continually gives us opportunities to correct and learn from our mistakes. This parable gives us hope.

How do you use your gifts? Do you act in a way that exhibits how you are entrusted with care for yourself and others?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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“A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” (Matthew 21:28 – 30)

Jesus used this parable as his answer to his religious adversaries, the chief priests and elders, when they challenged him on the authority of his preaching. By their answer to this question, they condemned themselves.

Their response was that the first son had done his father’s will. It was the only answer they could give. They could never have said that the second one, who said “Yes, sir” to his father but did not go and work in the vineyard, was doing his father’s will. The son can’t just listen to his father; he has to go out and actually do what his father has asked of him. It was the first son, who said he would not work in the vineyard, but then changed his mind and did the work, who did what his father asked.

Jesus answered the chief priests and elders, “Amen I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21: 32).

The chief priests and elders acted like the second son. They said yes to God, but they did not live the commandments. They did not do what was in the best interests of the people, but did only what was best for themselves. They were ignoring what they professed to believe.

One has to act and do his father’s will, not just acknowledge it.

In this parable, Jesus shows us the hypocrisy of his adversaries. But could this also be said of us? Are there times when our actions haven’t been in line with the faith we profess as Catholic?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22

 
CarolinaI spent a few wonderful days this summer at the pool and beach with my niece Lindsey and my grandniece Carolina. Carolina, still fresh from God, is 19 months old and has a contagious smile. Her “talking” is limited, but her facial and hand expressions communicate clearly and continuously. Although her favorite place is in her mother’s arms she is friendly and warm to all, including complete strangers. When someone comes into sight, her eyes light up, she bursts into a smile, and she gives her signature half wave.
 
One evening, Lindsey and I were walking on the boardwalk, pushing Carolina in the stroller, and we were immersed in conversation. We could not easily see what Carolina was doing, but we suddenly became aware of the reaction of those we passed by. One person after another broke into a smile and gave Carolina a half wave back. Carolina shares her pure joy freely, and those who receive it experience its glow and respond to it with their own joy. Joy can’t be manufactured or forced, but rather it is free and spontaneous. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and Carolina has that gift in abundance.
 
Joy, of course, is at the heart of Pope Francis’ letter “The Joy of the Gospel.” He exhorts us to attract others to Christ not through a convincing argument but through our joy. Joy is deeper than happiness. We can enter a time of suffering but still experience moments of joy. Joy is an everyday decision that springs from love, hope, grace, and gratitude.
 
Five ways to practice joy:

1. Entrust your life to God, and express gratitude daily.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
3. Spend time with children, and take in their spontaneous joy.
4. Do something fun regularly.
5. Enjoy the company of people who make you laugh.

 
Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit—preceded only by love (Galatians 5:22-23). It is through the Spirit that God shares joy. Pray for the gift of joy and, like Carolina, smile freely, greet others warmly, and be surprised by the joy that returns to you.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you.* Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20: 10-16).

“It’s not fair!” How many times in a day do we say this? How many times do we hear it from spouses or friends or children? This Gospel confirms how little things have changed over the past 2,000 years.

Put yourself in the position of those hired first in the parable of the laborers and the vineyard. Of course it doesn’t seem fair. These workers “bore the day’s burden and the heat” and got paid just as much as those who worked only a few hours. The landowner refuted this charge of injustice by saying, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20: 13–15). In reality, the landowner was fair to each worker because they each received the agreed upon wage for their work.

Is your attitude that of the generous landowner? Or is it that of the workers who felt that they had been cheated? These workers were concerned only with themselves and focused on being the victims of the perceived unfairness. “It’s not fair” usually means “It’s not fair to me.”

The Gospel according to Matthew was written for those with a Judeo-Christian background. For that audience, the appearance of the Gentiles later in the “day” was an unsettling development. Imagine what it must have felt like to live according to long-held traditions and then discover that newcomers to the community not only didn’t have the same traditions but were not even expected to uphold them.

Perhaps this parable is saying that we should not judge what God does in terms of “fairness.” God’s love is not dependent on what we do. It is unconditional and unchanging, even when we do not deserve it. Once we believe and embrace this fact, we will begin to understand the true meaning of love. And once we begin to understand that, we have a better chance of putting it into practice by offering this unconditional love to all people.

Why is it hard to believe in God’s immeasurable goodness? How can you believe more strongly?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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Are you a good listener? Do you recognize a good listener when you are speaking? What qualities and characteristics come to mind when you think about good listeners? See if these four are also on your list.
 
Vulnerability invites each of us to reflect on this question: How do I measure my ability to expose my mind and heart to another’s thoughts and experience?
This characteristic of a good listener, vulnerability, speaks of an openness to what is being said, so much so that you as listener may experience discomfort due to unexpected aspects of the sharing. Being a good listener may also expose you to the pain, complexity, and frustration of the human condition. There are no preconceived ideas here.
 
Acceptance moves each of us to ask: Do others have to fit into my way of being and doing?
This quality says, “I take you at face value and don’t have a mold into which you must fit. I give you respect and reverence which make God’s love present.
 
Expectancy prompts each of us to wonder: Do I hope for good things to happen in my interaction with others?
The value in expectancy is the belief that we will arrive at greater truth and awareness of the beauty of each other. The heart of hope searches for the good.
 
Constancy makes us sensitive to this plea: “Please don’t excuse yourself as I express myself.” Do you have a pocketful of “how to get away” expressions?
The beauty of this attribute is that no matter what, I will stay until you have finished sharing. I will not interrupt, and I certainly won’t finish your sentence or story. Such faithfulness can be challenging. In the face of difficult, repetitious, or complicated talk a constant listener is a true reflection of God’s faithfulness.
 
These four qualities invite us to consider how we listen to others and to pray for the grace of God to transform us when we find ourselves struggling or unable to do so.
 
From Sowing Seeds: Essentials for Small Community Leaders, based on On Listening to Another by Douglas V. Steere

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