Those of us who have tried growing herbs or veggies will probably find the message from today’s readings familiar with our experiences.
Such is the case in the first reading, where the vine-owner “had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press” (Isaiah 5:1-2). Yet, despite all these efforts, come harvest time all it yielded was wild grapes.
Similarly, Israel and the people of Judah are likened to these vines, which despite given the best conditions for growth, bore an unfruitful harvest by rebelling against God’s ways. Today, it is also timely to reflect on ourselves as the chosen people of God, the treasured vineyard of the Lord.
Amidst COVID-19, we have been given the resources, opportunities to grow and live out our faith through our actions. Have we made the effort to participate in the physical masses, spiritual Zoom sessions, and reach out to our brothers and sisters who have wandered away from the faith? What about the gifts and charisms given to us? To yield a bountiful harvest, we need to make full use of the blessings we have.
In the Gospel, we hear how the vineyard’s tenants ill-treated and killed the landowner’s servants and son, who were sent to collect the harvest (Matthew 21:33-39). Quite often, we may unknowingly reject the ‘prophets’ in our daily lives, who not only point out our shortcomings, but try to guide us to the right path. These could be a fellow ministry member, a colleague, or even strangers who pass by our way in life. Do we heed their message?
The Gospel also tells us the consequences of rejecting the path of righteousness and refusing the call to bear good fruit. “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).
If we truly believe in the faith we profess in, we’ll make the effort to ensure our actions, words and thoughts are centred on Christ and bear fruits of goodness. As John 15:5 proclaims, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
To bear good fruit, it is not enough to avoid what is forbidden. We need to pray for the grace and peace of God, and keep our thoughts, words and deeds in the Lord. As the second reading mentions, “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Above all, it is a call to renew ourselves during this period – even as we remain in the hope of resuming more of our Church’s activities. It is a call to not just remain in Christ, the true vine, but also do so as along with its branches – our community that binds us together. Like the psalmist in the responsorial psalm, we will likewise pray in hope for the Lord to remain with us, “give us new life…restore us; let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved” (Psalms 80:19-20).
Leon Chng, Victor Chua, Mervyn & Christine Wong