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Archbishop Follo: Convert to Love of God Who Creates and Forgives
Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO
October 03, 2020. With the wish that our life turns into love as the fruit of the vine turns into wine.

Roman Rite – XXVII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – October 4, 2020
Is 5, 1-7; Ps 80; Phil 4.6 to 9; Mt 21.33 to 43

Ambrosian Rite – Sixth Sunday after the martyrdom of St. John the Precursor

Job 1.13 to 21 Ps 16; 2Ti 2.6 to 15; Luke 17.7 to 10

  1)  God’s vineyard bears fruit of love.

Today’s parable is the parable of human history. Human history is a history in which garbage is produced and in which this garbage is taken by God as the cornerstone of the mysterious construction which is his kingdom. Man throws everything away, to the point of throwing away God, and God recovers everything except himself because the gift he gives remains. It is indeed the parable of human history. It tells what each of us can experience in some way, day after day, in the concrete world in which we live.

It is the parable of the human story, but it must also be said that it is exactly the parable that, first of all, concerns the story of Jesus. It is the detailed prediction even of what will happen to Jesus and what Jesus will accept. However, precisely for this reason, it also becomes a bit of an allegory of the human story.

Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,* put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey ” (Mt 21, 33). This verse summarizes all of God’s creative doing. First, there is the God who decides to create man and then considers also to create a vital environment in which to place him. Then, he creates the garden, and a garden in Israel is not so much a garden of lawns but a garden of fruit trees, a garden of trees that produces fruits good to eat.

So, he creates this garden and surround it with a hedge. The hedge is the border that distinguishes the garden from the desert. Here we need to acclimate ourselves in Israel, in the geographical configuration of that place. Creating a hedge means creating a place, a kind of oasis, a place where there is water, where there is fertility. This garden, therefore, symbolically with this hedge and with the tower, becomes in some way a figure of reference to the other, of a presence of God.

In this garden is planted a vineyard which is the tree of blessing par excellence. The vineyard is a figure of God’s blessing, it is a blessing that has no end, a blessing that opens in some way to the experience of God himself because it opens to the feast. It thus makes possible a spiritual experience, in the sense of the experience of the Spirit.

Therefore, the passage of today’s Gospel opens with the image of the vineyard, used often in the Old Testament to indicate the kingdom of God, his people or even a beloved woman. The connection with the first reading, Isaiah’s “canticle of the vineyard” (5, 1-7) that poetically describes all the care and attention that God has for his people, is clear. God expects fruits from his beloved people, but the latter does not provide them.

Beautiful is Isaiah’s image of a passionate God, who does for each of us what no one ever will. He is a farmer God who, like every farmer, dedicates to the vineyard more heart and more care than to any other field. God has for each of us a passion that no disappointment puts off, is never short of wonders and that, after each of our refusal, starts again to besiege our hearts.

Therefore, before anything else and before any action, let us rest in this experience of feeling to be a beloved vineyard, and let ourselves be loved by God. Each of us is nothing more than a tiny vine; however, God does not want to give up on anyone of us.

The fruit that God expects is like that of the vine. If every tree would care only for itself and only to reproduce, it would be enough having few seeds every few years or just one fruit. Instead, every autumn, there is an abundance of fruits, a magnificent generosity offered to all, to men, to small insects, to the earth. The bounty of nature is a model for the human heart.

Isaiah, in this his canticle, says that it is a story that cannot continue indefinitely.  A judgment (Is 5, 3) is needed. Punishment is required: the vineyard will fall into ruin; it will no longer be cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. But the punishment of God is never forever.  God’s threats are to convert, not to destroy.

Jesus in his parable quotes few sentences of the “canticle of the vineyard” of Isaiah, where the great Prophet describes in depth the history of the people of Israel for whom God cares with faithful love. Jesus states that the main issue is not the production of fruits more or less good, but the will of the tenants to take the vineyard away from the Lord. The farmers do not want to recognize the owner. This is their sin. They behave as if the vineyard belonged to them. When they kill the Master’s Son[1] they show it clearly: they want to be heirs and masters. However, rejecting the Lordship of God, they reject the cornerstone, the one who makes the world stand. Without the recognition of God, the world does not stand, and coexistence is shattered.

If we were to put ourselves into the bitter and violent logic of the tenants, we would repeat their senseless and brutal words: “This is the heir, come, let us kill him and we will get the inheritance.” If we were to give heed to this crude and brutal response, we would continue the harvest of blood which reddens the world.

If to Christ’s question “What will the owner of the vineyard do after the killing of his son? “our response would be like the solution proposed by the Jews, we would have a quintessential punishment, new tenants, new taxes, but an old world. This idea of justice would bring things a step back, before the crime, keeping intact the unchanging cycle of giving and taking, or more precisely, of claiming.

Jesus gives an answer that opens the heart to hope: the outcome of the story will be good, the vineyard will be generous with fruits, and the Lord will not waste in revenge the days of eternity. The kingdom of God will be given to a people so that they produce a fruit that is love and stands as the cornerstone, the guarantor of steady love.

Like living stones, we are called to be the living Church of Christ. Like branches we must adhere to Him who is the vine. We will then live in love and by love, being loved and loving the Lord.

God does not give up and offers a new way to reach a love free and irrevocable, the fruit of that love, the true grapes: He sends his Son, who becomes man. God himself becomes the root of the vine, He becomes the vine and so the vine becomes indestructible. The people of God cannot be destroyed because God has entered the ground, He is implanted in it. The new people of God are founded in God, who becomes man and, doing so, calls us to be in Him the new vine and to be and to remain in Him.

2) The joy of love

What is the purpose of the vine? To bear fruit, to give the precious gift of grapes and good wine.

The wine is the symbol and the expression of the joy of love. The Lord has chosen his people to have the answer of his love, and so the image of the vine has a nuptial meaning. The vine is an expression of the fact that God is looking for the love of his creature and wants to enter a relationship of love, a spousal relationship with the world through his chosen people.

Unfortunately, the history of the people of God is a story of infidelity. Instead of precious grapes, only small “things inedible” are produced. Instead of “remaining” in the communion of love, man withdraws inside his egoisms and wants to have himself, God, and the world only for himself. The vineyard is devastated, the wild boar of the forest and all the enemies come, and the vineyard becomes a desert.

The Will of God is not that of an owner who wants to be paid the rent and demands the death sentence of the men that killed his son. He does not want a vineyard that produces grapes of blood and bitter tears, but grapes sun-ripened by the love of his truth and full of the light of his love that springs from the heart of the Son. The Son, dead on the cross, “the stone which the builders rejected” becomes “cornerstone,” the foundation of everything.

What more could the Lord have done? God has loved to the extreme sign: He so loved the world that He sent His Son giving him to a death on a cross. As St. Paul says, on the cross Jesus “loved me and gave himself entirely to me.” This is the wonderful work of the Lord. Christ’s resurrection becomes the foundation and the beginning of each new life. It is the rematch, the victory of love.

To understand this divine logic, we should not cry so much on our infertility like shoots detached from the vine, but on the memory of the divine love that we betray. The tenderness of God and his sweet cures as divine Lover are the source of our joy.

Let us give thanks from the bottom of our hearts to the One who said “I ​​am the vine and you are the branches that I make fruitful”. Let us humbly ask him to grant us the grace to remain always united to Him in the everlasting mystery of dying and rising again, of the offering of the self to the Father.

The consecrated Virgin in the world have offered and renew the offer of self “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12, 1). With this offer, they insert themselves to Christ like the branches to the vine, and their being with Christ is the secret of their spiritual fruitfulness.

These consecrated women in the world are, together with Christ, next to our brothers and sisters in humanity. Humanity is the field in which Jesus sends them, intended to be, like Him,” in the things of the Father[2].”

These women are called to testify in a particular way the richness of the fruit that is generated by the fact of being with Jesus and, like him, in the things of the Father, in his will and in his salvific plan of love. Living and working in the world, they are called to live and witness the harmony between inner being and life. The practice of life with the Lord pushes them to go beyond what they are and to open to the dimension of love. For the consecrated women the moving words of Jesus: “Abide in me … abide in my love” (Jn 15, 7.9.) are the key to build an authentic spirituality, from the Love they receive to the love they give.

Calling them to virginity, the Lord did not take them away from anyone. The greater their union with Him grows, the greater become the resources for the gift of self to their brothers and sisters.  These are assets of a love that reaches out to people even through the mysterious ways of the spirit.

Belonging to God is always a gift to the neighbor.

Virginity does not deprive the woman of her prerogatives as wife and mother.

It is with a ‘bride’s heart that the woman consecrated to Christ turns to the brothers. If it were not so, she would be like a branch cut from the vine. Paul says, “Our qualification comes from God” (2 Cor 3, 5).

It is with the heart of a mother that the consecrated woman lives the spiritual motherhood in many forms. In her life, according to her own ability, she expresses a motherly “concern for people, especially for the most needy:  the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned, and, in general, people on the edges of society. In this way a consecrated woman finds her Spouse, different and the same in each and every person, according to his very words: ‘As you did it to one of the least of these (…), you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40) “(Saint John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, 21).

It is a motherhood that, as it was for Mary, comes to us as a gift and it is the beginning of something new. It is God’s answer to a gratuity of love that he himself has raised “to never leave the world without a ray of divine beauty to lighten the path of human existence” (Consecrated Life, 109).