27th Sunday of the Year A

I wonder have you ever been surprised by an unexpected letter – a letter that changed your day and led to a change of course in your focus on life. I remember not long after my ordination in my mid-20s receiving a letter from the Bishop informing me that I had to make a will and appoint executors, one of whom had to be a fellow priest. This came as a bit of a surprise in terms of its seeming lack of urgency or relevance to me at that age. I remember later discussing the prospect with my family. My Dad recalled the advice of a lawyer to a client many years before: - ‘even if all you own is a goat, make a will’!

We all have an obligation in justice to make a will, but we should always ensure that it is fair and equitable. We should seek advice discreetly.

In the drawing up of any will, there will be an inheritance, property, and beneficiaries, but grievances and division can often accompany the execution of a deceased wishes. We can all think of long- standing disputes, even court cases, family division and the ‘silent treatment’ that can occur between siblings over contested wills. There is disappointment, and anger due to a misguided sense of entitlement. It is particularly hurtful however when a verbal agreement or promise is not fulfilled in writing afterwards.

Today’s reading deals in fact with a sense of entitlement that arose among the Jews. As always we must qualify this assertion by remembering that there were devout faithful Jews, but a sense of arrogance and pride could easily manifest itself among the Pharisees.

The Lord deftly summarises the era of the Prophets in the Old Testament and even predicts His own rejection and death that will follow. The wicked tenants in the parable refer to the generations of Jewish leaders who refused to listen to God’s message of reform and repentance spoken through the words of holy men who were appointed with the task of conversion of the nation.

Their rejection is symbolised by the bailiffs sent by the landlord seeking the fruits (or repentance and justice) which are firmly refused repeatedly. The tenants were given a position of trust and responsibility. The tower and the storehouse are meant for the storage of the fruit and wine, the fruits of the labours commissioned by the landowner.

The message and messengers (prophets) sent on behalf of the landowner (God) is a message of love. But often the prophets had to preach in harsh uncompromising language to arouse a spirit of change – untenable to the overly sensitive ears and hardened hearts of the listeners.

This leads us to ponder where in our own lives change is necessary and where through the voices of others we have obstinately and stubbornly refused to amend our ways. For some of us it is bad habits that require the need to alter irrevocably our diet and lifestyle, to give up finally an addiction (or lack of impulse control in more recent parlance).

There are consequences to inaction – each opportunity spurned raises the ante as it were – the Lord’s patient insistent merciful pleading has reached an apex in the sending of His Son – His rejection and killing are the last act in a long drama which we call the Old Testament and the Gospels, yet is only the beginning of new chapter – the life of the Church, for the new tenants, who will be different and who will prove worthy of their trust.

Who are these new tenants? Quite simply, us. We are the recipients of God’s gratuitous love and the recipients of a divine commission to mission – to bear fruit in our own lives the fruits of the labour in the vineyard of the world, chiefly love and souls. Yet the parable has enduring relevance and meaning for us, who cannot take the transfer of stewardship lightly.

We also in our day need to earn the Lord’s favour - to be found worthy of a place in His Kingdom, our lasting heavenly inheritance, we must not, collectively orindividually, waste the opportunities given to us for change in our own lives that require ongoing conversion, penitence and a new way of living in the Holy Spirit, in grace, prayer and virtue. It requires discernment and listening to the voices principally of scripture and the Church’s teaching as well as the prophetic witness of the saints, the Popes, spiritual writers, preachers, wise guides and true friends.

Let us go forth and strive to produce fruit, proofs of our commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, by our witness, lives of prayer, example, Christian uplifting conversations and diligence and perseverance in works of justice and mercy.

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