27th Sunday in Ordinary Time(A)
October 2, 1011
The passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds me of what young people nowadays love to say often … “whatever!” – the quintessential postmodern expression, if ever there was one!
Whatever! … a cute way to wrap up everything said and unsaid … a semi-polite way to dismiss someone else’s idea without being too blatantly straightforward … a nice way to give closure to a discussion (or argument) that goes nowhere … a one-size-fits-all term to describe just about anything under the sun (including the sun itself, of course).
Whatever! … a flippant way to dismiss something as insignificant, valueless, as something of no major importance …
But the readings of today show the exact antithesis of this dismissive and flippant remark. The landowner of the gospel parable certainly does not think of his vineyard in a dismissive manner. No … he values his vineyard … he takes care of it and, in fact, entrusts it to someone who definitely he believed would not make light of it. He put a “hedge around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower” – the whole works associated with something a man loves and values!
This is the same reality that Isaiah seems to speak about. He talks about his friend who did pretty much the same as the gospel character did: “he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choices vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out of wine press.”
This goes to show that the vineyard that we speak of today is not something to be lightly dismissed with an irresponsible remark as “whatever!”
Yes, the readings tell us that the ultimate treasure we work for and value are not of the “whatever” kind. This goes to show, too, that our great vine-grower and master of the vineyard, does not treat us like we were insignificant creatures. The great vineyard that God the Father has entrusted to him, is his much-valued and much-loved arena of responsibility.
And who is this vineyard that we refer to? Let our response to the first reading clinch it for us: “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” That means US, you and I … all of us who both believe in Him and belong to His flock.
The postmodern world nowadays is awash in material goods. In this throw-away culture, people tend to value their stuff less and less. For one, they think they could always get a new one. Second, new models come out every six months and the whole machinery of desire and covetousness and envy begins to set in, when the latest model comes out. The old is treated as “whatever,” dismissed as “old” and therefore, not considered as of much value any longer. Old acquaintances, even old friends who no longer hover around our current valued “circles” are “unfriended” (in Facebook) or deleted from our digital address books, or lists of “contacts” that go the way of the rest of the digital world – constantly changing, constantly being updated, or upgraded, as the case may be!
The world, like never before, is being called to return to basics. This, among other things, is what today’s liturgy tells us. First, it teaches us to value what ought to be valued above all, like Christ valued his vineyard – the house of Israel!. Second, it tells us to hanker, not for just an undefined “whatever,” but something definite, definable, identifiable, and distinct.
Let St. Paul help us a little with what this is all about …
He tell us to worry, not about trifles, not about mere “whatevers” but about clearly defined values. And he takes pains to enumerate them: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious” …
This is not just the indistinct and undefined “whatever” of postmoderns like us, but the distinct and direct values that ought to characterize our current and future vineyard – the house, not just of Israel, but the house of the Lord, which we believe in, and which we all strive to belong to.
I just did a memorable wine-tasting at Chateauneuf du Pape in the Rhone region of southeastern France last month. What impressed me was how much they cared for the vineyard, how much they tended the vines, and how much they valued their produce. Their product, red and white wines of sterling quality, is not just a “whatever” product that one could dismiss as something just like any other wine elsewhere in the world. They value it. They treasure it. They believe in it. And they market it as such all over the world.
This is exactly how we now are all called to value the kingdom and all the values associated with it. Whatsoever is true, good, honorable, just, lovely, and gracious, not just “whatever!”