Our relationship with Jesus is not unlike, in many respects, that relationship in our lives that inspires us to love like we never knew we could. Relationships, however, can be challenging at times. It is not easy to have a relationship with Jesus, for example, and Jesus tells us so in Matthew 16: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
The apostles, who accompanied Jesus throughout His ministry, did not truly understand or appreciate that He is the Son of God. The only apostle with Jesus when He died, after all, was the Beloved Disciple John. The other apostles were in hiding, fearing for their lives. As we continue on our Lenten journey, today’s Gospel challenges us to discover new ways to cultivate God’s love, grace, and mercy in the world in which we live.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who planted a vineyard. Instead of using the opportunity wisely, the tenants of the vineyard disrespect the landowner by beating, stoning, and killing his servants. After Jesus tells the parable, He warns the chief priests and the Pharisees, “Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce fruit.” These same words may serve as a warning to us, who have received many gifts from God, each in his or her own way, but how do we use those gifts?
Jesus calls us to produce fruit in His vineyard. What is the vineyard? It is your house and my house. The vineyard is your life and my life. The vineyard is that place where others are reaching out to us, seeking the love of Christ that is a part of who we are as His sons and daughters, created in His image. God has given each one of us the love, strength, patience, and compassion to be the people He knows we can become. He wants us to say “Yes” to His invitation and to mean it.
Even when we do so, however, we may stray from our journey, yet if we make a sincere and loving attempt to return, God will meet us and walk with us. God always gives us the chance to think better of our words and actions and attitudes; he always reaches out to us, and he always invites us to repent of our errors and to believe in Him. God is constantly there for us showing us the true path, especially when we reject Him, the “cornerstone” of our faith and life. Even in our most deeply sinful moments, even in our times of most profound doubt and rejection, He is there holding out his hand to us, inviting us to have faith and to trust in him.
When we realize what we can accomplish in the vineyard when we cooperate with God’s grace, we will discover even more how much God loves us and how much we can love Him. In addition, we will discover how to truly love each other. Think about this for a moment: We can do more on earth than Jesus did. I am not speaking about the quality of our actions and service, because we cannot compare to Jesus. I am speaking about the quantity of our actions and service. The ministry of Jesus lasted three years, but we have many more years to bring God to people who are in desperate need of His love and grace.
This Lent we continue the faith journey that began before we were born, when God knew our name, and it will end when we reach Heaven, where God has a place for each and every one of us. What happens in between, though, is up to us. During our entire life, our decisions, words, and actions shape who we are. We may not be aware of these changes as they take place, but in the end they will become clear.
Those actions or sins from our past have shaped us in one way or another into the people we are today. Jesus loves us infinitely exactly as we are at this very moment, as imperfect as we may be, and He invites us to produce fruit that is life-giving, inspired by the marvels He has done, He does today, and He will do. If you ever find yourself challenged in your relationship with God, just stop, pray, and listen to God lovingly tell you, “We will get through this together.”
Deacon Mike McGrath is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Savannah. He ministers to the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities at St. Matthew Catholic Church (Statesboro, GA). He is married to his beautiful wife Leticia, and they are the parents of Matthew, who is 14, and Luke, who is 12. Deacon Mike is the editor of the book Answering the Call: How God Transformed the Lives of Nineteen Catholic Deacons.