Ordinary Time 27, Year A
- Attend to this vine, the shoot your right hand has planted (Ps. 80:15-16)
As Isaiah’s song of the vineyard itself makes explicitly clear, the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. And given that Jesus’ parable of the murderous tenants both borrows from Isaiah’s language and is addressed to the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people, there is little doubt that the vineyard in the parable also refers to the house of Israel.
But what serves as a warning to the house of Israel itself or its leaders may well be an appropriate warning as well to the church or its leaders. And what could serve as an appropriate warning to the church or its leaders would surely be appropriate warning also to religious orders, congregations and institutes within the church or their leaders. As a case in point, if one of the traditional prayers of the Congregation of the Mission, the Expectatio Israel, and its intention are any indication, the vine refers undoubtedly to the Congregation itself.
The Congregation of the Mission, repeatedly points out St. Vincent de Paul in so many words, is a vine planted, nurtured and lavishly cared for by the Lord (cf. “Conferences of Vincent de Paul,” in Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac: Rules, Conferences, and Writings, ed. Frances Ryan, D.C., and John E. Rybolt, C.M. [New York: Paulist Press, 1995], pp. 119-150). He was ever thankful to God for establishing the Congregation and leading it to works in the apostolate about which he confessed he had not had the faintest idea before. “It happened as if by itself, little by little, one thing after another,” said St. Vincent. “The number of those who joined us increased, everyone strive to acquire virtue, and as the numbers increased from one day to another, so too, good practices came into existence, so that we might live closely united together and observe uniformity in all our works” (ibid., p. 132).
But if St. Vincent thanked God, he also asked God for forgiveness “for all the faults which the Company in general and each of its members in particular has committed up to the present” and “for the grace to correct these faults and to perform our duties better and better” (ibid., pp. 12-126). He was quite aware, in other words, of the all too human tendency to give a sinful response to God’s overflowing love and generosity. St. Vincent did not consider it altogether implausible that the play of words made in reference to Israel or its leaders could also be made of the Congregation of the Mission or its leaders, a play of words that charges: “He looked for mišp?t (judgment), but see, mi?p?h (bloodshed)! for s?d?qâ (justice), but hark, s?’?qâ (outcry)!”
Little wonder, therefore, that St. Vincent should sound the warning against the challenges that he was afraid would be raised, after his death, to the works of the Congregation of the Mission. He urged the missionaries to resist and not to listen to false brethren and false prophets, who would proclaim perverse doctrines, teach contrary to his teaching, work to introduce false maxims in order to ruin, if they can, the foundations of the Congregation. Missionaries must stand fast against those colleagues, who, so long as they have a good dinner, do not bother about anything else, “who have only a narrow outlook, who confine their views and plans to a fixed circumference within which they shut themselves up as in one spot; they are unwilling to leave it, and if they are shown something outside it and draw near to look at it, at once they withdraw to their center, like snails into their shells” (ibid., pp.149-150). Humbly noting his own and others’ small-mindedness that could lead to the elimination of the practices and the functions of the Company, St. Vincent encouraged his confreres with the same Pauline confidence in God, I think, that is evident in today’s second reading from the Letter to the Philippians (ibid., p. 150):
- Let us give ourselves to God, gentlemen, so that he may grant us the grace to stand fast.
- Let us hold fast, my brothers, let us hold fast, for the love of God: He will be faithful
- to his promises. God will never abandon us so long as we remain fully obedient to him for
- the fulfillment of his designs. Let us remain within the bounds of our vocation. Let us
- labor to become interior men, to conceive great and holy affections for the service of God.
- Let us do the good that presents itself to be done and let us do it in the ways we have said.
- I do not say that it is necessary to proceed to infinity and to undertake all things without
- distinction, but those things which God lets us see, he asks of us. We are his and not our own.
That all Vincentians—that all Christians, for that matter—are God's and should not hold on to themselves and their works and accomplishments is obviously what the Eucharist also makes clear. Because Jesus obeyed his heavenly Father and performed what he was asked to do, he draws everyone to himself and the kingdom remains his until he hands it over to his God and Father (cf. Jn. 12:32; 1 Cor. 15:24). Because the obedient and murdered Son let go and made an offering of himself, unlike the murderous tenants who sought to be obeyed and were afraid of losing total control, he will paradoxically lose none of all that he has been given, including the vineyard to which he has been sent to obtain the produce for his Father (cf. Jn. 6:39).