The Parable of the Vineyard (Mt 21:33-43) relates how God had dealt with Israel, the chosen people. But it also relates to the Church and the world, for the Church is the new People of God, the new Israel, not confined to any particular race or geographical location, but intended by God to embrace people of every race and nation, which is why it has been called "Catholic" from the earliest centuries of its existence.
The vineyard we hear about in the Gospel and in the prophecy of Isaiah (Is 5:1-7) was perfectly prepared:
- a hedge round it to mark the property out;
- a wine press to press the grapes to produce fine wine;
- a tower to ensure it would never be without water.
An absent landlord will generally employ an agent to keep an eye on the tenants:
- to ensure all is well
- to collect the rent, in this case the fruit of the vineyard: grapes and wine.
- that they were God's people, his possession;
- that God expected fruits of good works, worship, fidelity, etc.
The prophecy of Isaiah speaks of the vineyard of Jerusalem from which God expected fine grapes but which yielded only wild grapes.
When he looked for justice he found only bloodshed. Man was killing man, shedding the blood of his brother and, ultimately, the blood of God's only begotten Son, the heir in the parable whom they cast out of the vineyard and killed, taking Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem and crucifying him outside the city.
The finest vine is the vine of human life. Each human being is like the finest of grapes. It, of all creatures on earth, must never be killed or harmed by another.
Everyone of us here sees in every baby a little miracle. Sure, it came about through the co-operation of its father and mother, but they did not determine what kind of baby they would have, what its features or character would be. This was the work of God, accepted as a gift to be marvelled at. And if the baby is sick in any way, we surround it with special care and it becomes even more of a treasure.
But there are those who see a baby as bad news, another burden on the planet, another person with whom to share the resources of the earth. And a sick baby as one not deserving to live.
As they did when the baby who would make the human population top 6 billion was about to be born, so as the population approaches 7 billion the BBC World Service has been focussing on India. Why India? Perhaps the 7 billionth member of our current population will be born in the USA? And if this were the case, it would consume far more than the baby born in India. The rich West wishes to control the population of places like India, seeing it as a threat to its comfortable life, not wishing to share the vast resources that are at our disposal.
We see our Christian youth as our future, with their desires to live good lives, and we wish to help them grow up pure and innocent.
But there are others who wish to corrupt our youth, to lead them along the ways of evil so that the culture of death may spread further.
We see our elderly as possessing so much wisdom from which we and the younger generations derive so much benefit, deserving of our care and respect.
Others see them as a burden whose deaths can be hastened by withdrawal of treatment and care or by other deliberate acts to hasten death.
Today the bishops of the US call us to observe a Respect Life Sunday. They ask us to go back to the basics about human life and sexuality.
To "Respect Life" means to respond appropriately to the value that is life:
- to preserve and nurture it;
- to honour marriage as the proper relationship between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating and nurturing human life. Marriage has precisely the purpose of creating life. That is what it is all about.
- to nurture in our young people the virtue of chastity and the respect they owe to their own bodies and those of others;
- never to deliberately frustrate the process of procreation through contraception which is where the first "NO" to life is uttered. It is here where the culture of death begins. It does not begin with abortion but with contraception;
- to value the lives of the poor and needy, seeing Christ in them, by helping them in their needs.
The vineyard - if presently it seems to be tenanted by destroyers of the vine of life - will be taken from them and leased to other tenants who will bear fruit, fruit of the choicest grapes of life.
The culture of death will, eventually, give way to the culture of life. This became clear to me at January's March for Life in Washington DC, when I witnessed so many young people (and when I first came to know the fine young people of Gwinn) bearing witness to the value of life. The purveyors of the culture of death will - inevitably - kill themselves off. Their place will be taken by the proclaimers of the culture and Gospel of Life who are the future.
Let each one of us in our own personal lives be respectful of life and God's plan for life, each in accordance with our particular vocations. And let us do all we can to support those who are actively working to defend vulnerable human life, and join them in so far as we are able.