Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
One fateful day, Jesus was walking with his disciples at Bethany, but then he was hungry. This would be the second and last time the Gospels will tell us that Jesus was hungry. The first was after his Forty-day fasting (Matt. 4:2).
In that state of hunger, Jesus saw a fig tree covered with green leaves and searched for fruits on it, but he found none, though it was not the season for figs. Jesus expressed his disappointment by cursing the fig tree: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Matt. 21:19).
The next day, Peter discovered and verbalized his amazement that the fig tree Jesus cursed the previous day had withered to its roots. Many still wonder why Jesus would curse the fig tree for not producing fruit outside the fruition season.
Beyond teaching a lesson on prayer, Jesus used the event of the unfruitful fig tree to demonstrate the importance of bearing fruits in season and out of season. In other words, there should be enduring fruits beyond the green leaves. We are here on earth to bear fruits, nothing more or less!
The Unfruitful Vineyard
In the First Reading (Isaiah 5:1-7), the prophet presented a parable cast as a song addressing God as his friend or beloved who had a vineyard, the people of Israel. Unfortunately, the vineyard failed to produce the desirable fruits despite trying to give it the best possible treatment.
With the acute state of unproductivity, God, who was figuratively complaining to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the people of Judah as witnesses, resolved to exterminate the vineyard and make it a ruin.
In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 21:33-43), our Lord Jesus Christ gave a parable that aligns seamlessly with the prophecy of Isaiah about his beloved and his vineyard. In the parable of the wicked tenants, our Lord Jesus tells us about a landowner who planted a vineyard and, after putting all necessary accessories together, leased it out to some tenants and went on a journey.
When it was vintage time, the landowner sent his servants to the tenants to gather his produce from them, but he got the most awful feedback. They unleashed various forms of mistreatment on the servants, including seizing them and beating, stoning, and killing one of them.
The landowner finally sent his son, presuming that they would respect that, but they dealt with him to death because he would be the inheritor of the vineyard.
What Really Made the Tenants Wicked?
It is very easy to say that the tenants were considered wicked because they mistreated the landowner’s servants and killed his son. That would not be a wrong answer, at least from an emotional point of view; however, it is incomplete.
The real issue was their inability to produce fruits from the vineyard. Their obvious unfruitfulness and emptiness drove them to aggression to compensate for their deficiencies. Empty vessels make the loudest noise, and that is true here.
So, the basic source of the tenants’ wickedness was their wastefulness of the vineyard without producing fruits. We learn here that we can become wicked to the Lord when we fail to produce fruits, even when we appear to be functional; our Lord says: “By their fruits, you will know them (Matthew 7:20).
Challenges to Fruitfulness
Recall that our Lord Jesus Christ does not just tell stories to entertain people but to teach important lessons. The parable of the wicked tenants is directed at all of us. First, we understand that we are all tenants, and the earth is God’s vineyard where He had placed all the helpful things that would help us to bear fruits.
An important inquiry we should make is to know why the tenants could not produce fruits; in other words, what were the obstacles, the gaps, and the conflicts in their functionality.
Arrival Mentality: This was the major obstacle that confronted the tenants’ productivity. Arrival mentality is simply the feeling that one’s current situation is the best that can be attained and there would be no need for development.
Recall that the landowner had the place completely set up for the tenants with a hedge for protection, a wine press for production, and a tower representing the requisite knowledge and insight. However, their arrival mindset deterred them from effectively using all they had.
This arrival mentality confronts most Christians as the only thing Christian about them is that they identify with a denomination and attend church as the occasion arises. Such people believe they only need to be Christian and that God will care for the rest. St. Paul warns us, “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Accidental Landlord Mentality: In Real Estate, accidental landlords are tenants who rent out the facility to other tenants. The problem with this mentality is that the “accidental landlords” would start acting as landlords and soon forget that they were tenants in the first place.
The actions and dispositions of the tenants in the parable showed that they wanted to become landlords by default. Consequently, they made decisions that were contrary to the terms and conditions of their tenancy, including killing the rightful inheritor of the vineyard, which sounded like a coup d’état.
Today, many people acting under the influence of the accidental landlord mentality behave like they own some part of the earth if not all. We see this in the way they regard and treat others due to some advantages they have over them. The hard but undeniable truth is that all of us, without exceptions, are all earthly tenants, and our tenancy would surely expire.
Running Outside the Right Track: The tenants in the parable may not have been idle in the vineyard, but their activities could have been everything but what the landowner required of them. They could have been highly active but outside the direction of the owner. The purpose of their tenancy was to produce fruits for the landowner, not just for themselves.
Life is not about moving or running, even with speed, but being on the right path. We often seek what God will do for us and think less of what God wants us to do for Him, which will be nothing more than aligning with His will. Our Lord Jesus would say, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34).
God is looking for functional Christians who are also fruitful. Church membership alone cannot transit us to the kingdom of God, so we need to bear enduring fruits across seasons.
In the Second Reading today (Phil.4:6-9), St. Paul gave us a powerful fruitfulness template. He advised that in our journey through the landscape of our spiritual journey, we should focus on Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious. We should also think about whatever is excellent and worthy of praise.
Fruitfulness is a divine project we should take seriously because we shall be accessed by our fruits, not our activities.
God Bless You.