by Fr. Tommy Lane
Recently I took a check to a bank in this country and asked the bank official to “lodge the check to my account.” She replied, “You want cash today?” I said, “No, please lodge it to my account.” Again she said, “You want cash today.” I was about to ask her a third time to lodge it when said, “Oh, you mean you want to deposit it.” I said, “Yes, that is what I mean, please deposit it to my account.” She said, “Now we are on the same page.” Obviously I need to purchase a dictionary of American English! The bank is now holding my money on deposit which means I trust them to keep it for me so that whenever I want it back I can get that exact same amount back again. I deposited the money with them and they are keeping it in trust for me.
In the parable that Jesus taught in our Gospel today (Matt 21:33-43) the landowner gave his vineyard on deposit, so to speak, to the tenants, when he went on a journey. As vintage time approached he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants mistreated and killed his servants and finally in exasperation the landowner sent his son thinking they would respect his son. But they also killed his son. Jesus teaches this parable in Matthew after arriving in Jerusalem before his Passion. We know, and the Pharisees listening to Jesus know, that Jesus is referring to the prophets of the Old Testament who had been rejected and killed, and Jesus is now predicting his own death. He knows it is the inevitable outcome of his ministry. The crunch line comes at the very end when Jesus says, “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.” (Matt 21:43) We could see this as a reference to the Church in the first century becoming less and less Jewish and more and more Gentile. The deposit which had been given to the Chosen People would be taken from them because they did not keep it in trust as requested.
“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.” We are to produce fruit. Too easily we can fall into the trap of thinking that we have to DO things for the Lord. Yes we do but the principal fruit the Lord asks of each of us is to give him our hearts. We have all given up a lot to come to the seminary. There is one more thing the Lord asks of us here, to surrender totally to him. How irrational it would be to give up everything in coming here and then when here not to surrender to the Lord. There is a beautiful passage in a book by Sr. Ruth Burrows entitled Guidelines for Mystical Prayer which I like very much.
“The proud cannot bring themselves to hold out empty hands to God, they insist on offering virtues, good works, self denials, anything in order not to have nothing. They want to be beautiful for him from their own resources, whereas we are beautiful only because God looks on us and makes us beautiful. God cannot give himself to us unless our hands are empty to receive him. The deepest reason why so few of us are saints is because we will not let God love us. To be loved means a naked, defenseless surrender to all God is. It means a glad acceptance of our nothingness, a look fixed only on the God who gives, taking no account of the nothing to whom the gift is made. To lose ourselves like this is the most radical of despoliations because the last shred of self-importance is discarded...Striving for ‘perfection’ is the most disastrous of the mistakes good people fall into…Most fervent souls are prepared to give God any mortal thing, work themselves to death, anything except the one thing he wants, total trust: anything but surrender into his loving hands…
I think Sr. Ruth Burrows describes very well in that passage the fruit we are to produce, the fruit of total surrender to God. An image I have of spiritual direction is going down deeper and deeper into our hearts, like going down deeper into a well until eventually we get to the water at the bottom of the well. Or perhaps we could look at spiritual direction as peeling off layers of ourselves so that deep inside we see what the Lord is saying to us. Engaging in discernment in seminary is the primary fruit the Lord asks of us, to peel off the layers of our heart so that we are empty before the Lord and we see who we are and where God is calling us. It is only when we go deep into the well or peel off all the layers of our hearts, some of which may be resistance, that we will find God and ourselves and produce fruit. Our model in self-emptying to produce this fruit is Jesus. Although rejected by the builders he has become the cornerstone and this is wonderful in our eyes.
In our first reading the prophet Isaiah describes God’s disappointment with his vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), which is his Chosen People, Israel. Instead of yielding grapes it yielded only sour grapes. Therefore God removed its protection. The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell in 722 BC, about twenty years after Isaiah began his ministry. And two centuries later it was the turn of the southern Kingdom of Judah to collapse. Reading this passage with our Gospel parable today reminds us that Israel/Judah in the Old Testament has been replaced by or reached fulfillment in the Church in the New Testament. And the Church is asked to produce fruit for God. God has given the Church a deposit, the deposit of faith, which means we are keeping the faith in trust for God and we are to hand it on to the next generation exactly as we received it. In the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum in October 1992 Pope John Paul II wrote,
“Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to his Church, and which she fulfills in every age. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which was opened 30 years ago by my predecessor Pope John XXIII, of happy memory, had as its intention and purpose to highlight the Church’s apostolic and pastoral mission…The principal task entrusted to the Council by Pope John XXIII was to guard and present better the precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all people of good will.”
As individuals we strive to produce fruit for the Lord, a heart given only and totally to him. As a Church we strive to guard the deposit of the faith. In these efforts for the kingdom Paul’s advice to the Corinthians in our second reading today is also good for us.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More homilies for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday Year A
Related Homilies: Bearing Fruit - Our love is not to be just words or mere talk
second reading: on filling your minds with what is good see Following Jesus begins in your Mind