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God gave the Israelites a vineyard to harvest the choicest wine grapes. To appreciate such a gift we need to consult an expert. Once I had the chance to tour one of the vineyards at Napa Valley. The guide told us that to make world-class vintage wine, you need the perfect conditions. You have to have the proper amount of rainfall and the right amount of sunlight with constant temperatures. There are only a few places on the planet that provide such conditions. Napa Valley is one of them. Imagine that God gave Israel a Napa Valley, a rare vineyard to harvest grapes that will produce world-class vintage wine. How could Israel use such a gift? Let’s say the Israelites invited the king of Mesopotamia and his entourage to a great banquet. This king is the ruler of a superpower from the east, and he is a powerful and feared man. And there he is sitting at the Israelite table. Before the food is presented, they serve drinks. Of course, they are not going to serve bottles of Bud Light. No, the Israelites are going to tap one of the many kegs of vintage wine that were produced by the vineyard. They fill a glass for the king. The king raises the glass to the light to inspect the texture, swirls the wine in the glass, puts the glass up to his nose to smell the fragrance, and then he tastes the wine. He says to his guests, “You’ve got to be kidding! Where did you get this wine, it is fantastic?” The Israelites will say: “God gave us a vineyard that produces world-class wine.” The king then says: “God must really like you guys; I think I’d better start worshiping your God.” And God is in heaven hearing the most powerful man on earth speaking great things about God. That is, of course, the divine dream. That is the dream of the Bible. That one day all the nations will gather at one table in peace agreeing that God is great.
According to Isaiah, God goes out to inspect the outcome of his wonderful vineyard on earth. He pictures in his mind kegs of vintage wine stacked up to the ceiling in the warehouse ready for the feast. He envisions workers tending to the grape vines and the soil. He pictures the Israelites in great joy over the gift that God has given them. So he enters his vineyard, and he sees that it is just a valley of weeds and briars: no storage house filled with barrels of wine, no workers, no grape vines. God is very angry. Why does the great prophet Isaiah say that God is anger? Because there is not going to be a banquet. There is not going to be a moment when the most powerful man on earth is going to be on his second glass of wine saying,“I love your God.” There is not going to be a banquet where all the nations of the world are gathered in peace and praising God. There is no dream. And the reason why the divine dream has been shattered is because no one went out and worked the vineyard. That is Israel’s job. They are to use the gifts that God has given to them to show the world the greatness of God.
Jesus tells a parable of a father who asks his son to go to the vineyard and work. One son says, “Yes,” but he never went. The parable portrays God asking the Israelites to do that work in the vineyard. They tell God, “Yes,” but they do not go. However, we find out from the parable that the father has a second son. That would be us. He tells the father “No.” The parable does not tell us why the son said no, but I imagine that son had other important matters that needed his attention. Perhaps he is getting married that weekend, or he has a leak in the roof that needs to be repaired before the next storm, or he has to finish a paper for school. I am sure the son had a good reason for saying no. Yes, the son had something important to do, but apparently, as he was walking away from his dad, he started to think. He started to think about the big picture, the great divine dream that one day all the nations will be at peace sitting at the banquet table eating rich food and choice wines and saying how wonderful God is. As he thinks about the bigger picture of life, he decides that his father had offered him an opportunity to do something really great and to be a part of the divine dream. The son went to the vineyard to work, and now the dream lives on.
Here is the faith lesson. We all have important tasks that need to be done. We are all very busy with our lives.Yet, as we go out to do what we think is important we begin to think about the big picture. We remember that God has invited us to be a part of something great.If we use the gifts that God gave us, we can show the world God’s greatness. And the one day we will all be gathered together praising God.Back to All Homilies