Here’s a joke I’m sure you’ve heard before, but it’s a good one and worth repeating, it is from Mel Greene:
A guy died and was waiting at the Pearly Gates while Saint Peter leafed through his big book to see if the guy was worthy. Saint Peter went through the book several times, furrowed his brow, and said to the guy,
You know, I can’t see that you ever did anything really bad in your life, but you never really did anything good, either. If you can point to even one really good deed, you’re in.
The fellow thought or a moment, and said,
Yeah, there was one time when I was driving down the highway and saw a giant group of bikers assaulting this poor girl. I slowed down my car to see what was going on, and, sure enough, there they were, about fifty of them, tormenting this terrified young woman. Infuriated, I got out of my car, grabbed a tire iron out of my trunk, and walked up to the leader of the gang, a huge guy with a studded leather jacket and a chain running from his nose to his ear. As I walked up to the leader, the bikers formed a circle around me. So, I ripped the leader’s chain off of his face and smashed him over his head with the tire iron. Laid him out. Then I turned and yelled at the rest of them, “Leave this poor innocent girl alone! You are all a bunch of sick, deranged animals, go home before I teach you all a lesson in pain!”
Saint Peter, impressed, says,
Really? When did this happen?
Oh, about two minutes ago.
Doesn’t our first reading from Isaiah and our Gospel from Matthew sound alike? Looking a little closer, we notice that in Isaiah, the Vines and the Fruit are the problem; and in Matthew we notice that the produce is fine, but the delivery system is malfunctioning (that the real problem is with the tenants).
In Isaiah, the vineyard represents God’s people. God gives them every advantage to produce the good fruit that represents right judgment and justice. But instead, their prideful ways lead to oppression, bloodshed, and cries for help. To change for the better, the nation will have to experience deprivation and ruin. Only such harsh measures will make them wiser in the things that really matter.
In the Gospel, at first glance, you might think that the story is about how God takes his vision of salvation away from the Jewish people and gives it to the Gentile people (if it was a tenant problem). It is not a story of how God favored the Christians over the Jewish people. It is a story of the replacement of the Jewish leaders of the time, who were not doing what they were supposed to be doing and they were to be replaced by new competent, faithful Jewish leaders that would become the structure of the Church. (The Apostles).
Like the joke that I began with, God gives each of us every chance to do what is right, even at the last action of our lives. He is constantly rooting for us (cheering us on) to do the right thing.
Let’s choose to be a part of God’s Kingdom — not by hanging on to old grudges or hurts, not by thinking we are not good enough, not by living on “auto-pilot” — but rather, by living in thanksgiving and celebration.
Saint Paul challenges us to keep on doing what we must (prayer and petition) — so what you have learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me — and then the God of peace will be with you.
This week, may we be challenged to gain insight on how we must become a great harvest for the Lord… As we come to the table of the Lord, let us offer ourselves as the fruit of the vine, and work of human hands.