Red Deer Catholic School Division Faith Day Mass
[Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28; Psalm 105; Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46]
As we open our Faith Day with this celebration of mass, we hear from Jesus the familiar parable of tenants in a vineyard. Like every parable, Jesus uses it to convey a message to all of his followers. Today, as we ponder our theme We Journey Together, I would like to suggest how the Lord makes use of the story to speak directly and specifically to us, who are involved in the mission of Catholic Education.
Throughout Scripture, the image of a vineyard is used to speak of God’s people. It is God who has formed them, and protected and nurtured them. By means of the love God poured forth upon them, He expected this vineyard to bear the fruit of justice and peace. Time and again the prophets would call out the people, especially their leaders, for failing to bring forth not the hoped-for produce but rotten grapes of injustice, hatred and division.
When Jesus adopts this imagery, he introduces the concept of tenants to speak of the religious leaders of his day. Tenants are not owners, but stewards; they manage on behalf of the owner that which is not their own in order to bring forth the produce that he, not they, want. But the tenants forget this and usurp ownership, as evidenced by their attempts to keep out any representatives of the owner, including even his son, and use the vineyard to further their own plans. In this teaching of the Lord, the vineyard owner is the heavenly Father, His representatives are the prophets, and the son, of course, is Jesus himself, who was rejected violently by the religious leaders of his day.
The vineyard imagery applies well in Catholic education. The school is the vineyard of the Lord, and we who exercise leadership – teachers, administration, trustees, clergy – are the tenants; we care for it on behalf of the Lord. The produce God looks for are children – His children, of course – formed in His Word, nourished by his sacraments, and prepared for faithful discipleship throughout their lives. Faith Day, especially falling as it does in the season of Lent, is a good opportunity for us to ask how we are exercising our tenancy, our stewardship, and if the Lord is calling us to reform.
Some questions enjoined on us by the parable for our Lenten reflection are these: Are we always keeping in mind that we are but stewards of something greater than ourselves, and that, as such, we have a responsibility to act in accord with the wishes of the owner and not our own? Have we set up a “watchtower” in this vineyard that enables us to be on the lookout for anything approaching that would sour the produce? Most pointedly, do we in any way act such that we keep out “the son of the owner”, who is Jesus? Clearly, no one wants to do that, yet that is precisely what would happen if, for example, the teaching of Christ were replaced with programming or ideologies inimical to it.
Our students are precious to each of us; they are an even greater treasure in the eyes of God. The Lord has entrusted them to our care, to be nurtured and brought up in accord with His plan for each of them. We can only be faithful to this calling if we open wide the gates of the vineyard to the son of the owner, to Christ, and keep him and his Word at the centre of all that we say and do.
If we find, from reflection upon this parable, that we have perhaps not been entirely faithful to our calling as stewards, the scriptural texts also offer us great comfort and encouragement. In the parable, the repeated sending of representatives to the tenants indicates the patience of God, His readiness to give second chances, to start again. We tenants are precious to God, too, and He wants nothing more than to renew us by His love and mercy. The passage from Genesis teaches that God will not allow our mistakes, sins, or omissions to have the last word. The brothers of Joseph acted horrendously by throwing him into a pit and selling him as a slave in Egypt, yet God raised Joseph up as a leader in that country and an instrument of the divine plan. When we turn our lives over to our loving God – our personal lives, our families, our work in Catholic education – including things we regret, He will turn everything to the good for our sake and for the accomplishment of His saving purpose.
Our theme encourages us to journey together. The remainder of the day will explore the implications of that. The Word of God reminds us that our first consideration must always be how we journey together with Jesus Christ, the “son of the owner”. By the grace we receive in this mass, may he make us faithful tenants of the vineyard that is Catholic education, stewards who seek to bring to God the produce of students who know, love, and follow His Son.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph High School, Red Deer, Alberta
March 10th, 2023