Jesus Is a Wine-Maker

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

The Gospel for October 8th, the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, is one of the tough ones. The parable of the tenants in the vineyard (Mt 21:33-46) and their absurd refusal to give the owner of the vineyard the harvest owed to him is—well, it’s kind of violent.

Some people get beaten up, and others are killed. If this parable was made into a movie, it would be rated R for violence, and as with all good Hollywood action movies, it ends with those wretched men being brought to a wretched end (v.41).

This story is really a rather bizarre tale about outrageously bad behaviour. But it’s directly from the mouth of God, and he is using it to make his point.

So what’s the point, then? I would venture to say that most readers of Restoration are not especially violent folks. Certainly we of Madonna House are not all that prone to mayhem and maimings.

Since we’re (probably) not planning to beat up, stone, or kill anyone, what meaning are we to glean from this parable?

It’s this: in this Gospel, God is pushing us towards a fundamental reality that we cannot duck no matter how we may try. And that is the fact that in the end, there are only two choices: Heaven or Hell, love or hate, yes or no.

Oh we know that God is merciful, patient: the God of second chances, third chances, fourth chances, and on and on and on. Nonetheless, sooner or later, there we are—the tenants—and the Son is at the gate of the vineyard. And we must decide once and for all.

At the end, the bottom line none of us can avoid is this: either we are going to worship Jesus or we will crucify Him. It actually is that stark.

God loves us and is so patient with us, but there is only one good outcome possible for our lives, and that is to fall down and worship Christ our king and our God, and so enter into the kingdom he has promised. If we do not do that, ultimately we become his enemies.

Well, what does that mean—to worship God? Is it something we do once a week or perhaps more often—the ritual act available in the church nearest you? Yes, of course, but there’s more to it than that.

The original biblical meaning of the word “worship,” is to fall down on your face before God. Symbolically, this means to give Him everything.

Put simply: we each have a vineyard, and Christ comes to it. What will we do?

To worship God means to give him your grapes—all of them! And what are they? Well, what do you have today? Sell it and give it to Him.

Some days we may seem to have just a little handful of shrivelled up raisins; other days we may have bunches and bunches of rich juicy grapes. But whatever we have, we give.

Now, in case you didn’t notice, the tenants in the Gospel are just a tad reluctant to do just that thing. And you may have noticed a similar reluctance in your own heart. I certainly have. Now why is that?

To answer that question, let me pose another one: “why grapes?” Why does the Lord choose the image of a vineyard? Why not a wheat field or an olive grove? Why talk about grapes?

Well, wine is made out of grapes, and, in Scripture, wine is a symbol of one thing and one thing only—joy. In Psalm 104, verse 15, for example, the psalmist says that God has given us wine to gladden our hearts. Whether or not it has that effect on you, that is the biblical meaning of wine.

And so we have grapes in our life. That is, we have the hope of happiness, of joy. A whole world has been given to us, and that world is the vineyard God has planted. We are placed in this vineyard with a great desire for happiness, for a good life. And we hope we will find it.

Then … God shows up. Jesus shows up at the door of the vineyard and says, “Do you trust me? Will you give me everything you’ve got? Do you trust me to make you happy, to bring you joy?”

This is the struggle, the drama, the challenge, the tough word, the hard choice we all face.

What path will we take to joy, to happiness? The path of total trust and abandonment, giving Jesus every lousy little grape we’ve got … or will we try something else?

What does it mean to give Jesus our grapes? What does that look like, practically speaking? I can think of two ways—I have no doubt that there are lots more.

First, commit your life to Him. Which means, generally, making a commitment to a specific vocation or way of life. This is truly essential to giving ourselves to Jesus.

We hear quite a bit these days that young people struggle with commitment. There are many reasons for that, of course.

But if I can address myself, briefly, to the younger people reading this paper, I would say this: do not be afraid to commit yourself to Christ.

Do not be afraid to commit yourself to marriage, to priesthood, to religious life—or, if you are called to it—to a life of celibacy “in the world.” This is how we trust Christ with our happiness. It’s that fundamental.

To make this commitment is to promise God, not just whatever grapes you have today, but any grape, big or small, that you lay your hands on for the rest of your life.

The Lord is a very good winemaker. He knows how to bring us to joy. Do not be afraid to give your whole life to Him.

For some people, of course, a specific commitment to a specific vocation proves elusive, and this can be very painful. Nonetheless, no matter what our story is, each of us at some point in our life must kneel down and say to Him “Into your hands, Lord, I commit my spirit. Father, your will be done.”

The second way we give our grapes to Jesus each day is to simply remember that he shows up at our vineyard most often, as Mother Teresa says, in the distressing disguise of the poor. And that poor one today could be just about anybody.

It could be an actual poor person, as we normally understand it—our world is full of people lacking basic necessities.

It could also be the person sitting across from you at the dinner table, your nearest and dearest. It could be the co-worker you find most irksome or simply the stranger on the street or in the supermarket.

Well, what do you have for them today? (And I don’t mean money and material possessions or even mainly that.)

Know as you answer that question that the real question is “What do you have for Jesus today?”

How’s the grape supply holding out? Are you struggling yet, resisting just a little, maybe even tempted to violence after all, if one more person asks for one more “grape” from you?

Give what you have to whoever God puts in front of you, as best you can. That’s how we give our grapes to God, to Jesus.

That’s how we trust him to make us happy, to bring us to joy, to turn those lousy little grapes which (if we hold onto them) will be shrivelled little raisins tomorrow, into rich, beautiful wine forever. Commit our life to him, and then love, love, love, never counting the cost within that commitment.

Always with his mercy, his infinite kindness, his patience surrounding us as we struggle to do this. There is no other way.