Being Fruitful Vs. Being Successful

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Week XXVII-A, 08 October 2017
Isaiah 5:1-7//Philippians 4:6-9//Matthew 21:33-43

The late Fr. Henri Nouwen explained in one of his many writings that being successful is relying more on one’s own strengths and abilities while being fruitful is to trust more in God. He explained that in our world today, we consider people with power and wealth as successful, forgetting that Jesus calls us to be fruitful by being one with Him always as the true vine (cf. Jn.15:5). And that means being one in His passion and death to be one in His Resurrection. That is when we become fruitful.

Success is a very relative term but this is not to diminish its meaning and worth. Our readings today invite us to re-examine our preoccupation with success in life and instead focus more on the Lord’s call for us to be fruitful by being faithful to Him. In His parable today, we find the tenants taking over the vineyard of the landowner even to the extent of killing the son sent to collect the fruits of the harvest. For the second straight week, Jesus directed His parable of the tenants to the chief priests and elders of Israel who have usurped possession of Israel, lording over them, that in the process, they have neglected the welfare of the people. They have become unfaithful to God although successful in terms of keeping the people subservient to them first and then to the laws and rituals of their religion. They have rejected the prophets sent by God to remind them of their wrongdoings like the servants sent by the landowner to collect his share of harvest. Worst, like those tenants, they would kill the only son of the landowner sent to his vineyard which eventually became the fate of Jesus in their very hands: “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”(Mt.21:38-39)

What we have here is more than a parable that turns into an allegory concerning the kingdom of God. It is more than a story based on true situations then that continue up to now when tenants revolt against oppressive landlords. The parable of the tenants is addressed to us on the necessity of being fruitful in life by being faithful to God and His messengers, most especially His only Son our Lord Jesus Christ. For a better appreciation of the parable, let us reflect on the first reading which is an elegy for a vineyard that had failed to produce good fruits despite the efforts of the landowner: “My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes. Now inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard: What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?”(Is.5:1-4)

God is reminding us today through the Prophet Isaiah that He had done and continues to do everything for us His vineyard, but how come we have not become fruitful? What else is needed for us to bear fruit after God had showered us with all His blessings? How sad that we not only fail to recognize the abundant blessings we enjoy from God but even complain to Him for having less in life! We have all kinds of excuses and alibis, always blaming somebody else even God for our shortcomings or inadequacy and irresponsibility. Worst like in the gospel, we have forgotten entirely the fruits of good works, virtues, holiness, peace, kindness and mercy because we have been so focused on material things. Like the wicked tenants, we have forgotten we are stewards tasked to produce fruits, not to possess things for ourselves for nothing is really ours to own. We keep on trying to have so much of everything and we forget to share. Like the tenants, we have come to the high point of arrogance and self-righteousness as if we are the savior or messiah of the world with that sense of entitlement and being privileged as if the world owes us.

Last Sunday, Jesus reminded us in His parable of the two sons that we have to walk our talk; today, He is telling us to be fruitful by first of all recognizing Him and the others He sends to remind us of our tasks as stewards of the Lord’s vineyard. In no uncertain terms, Jesus reminds us after His parable that He is “the stone rejected by the builders who has become the cornerstone.” It is a direct quotation of Ps. 118:22-23 to assure us that God is doing everything for us, even sending us His Son Jesus to help us bear fruits in life and find fulfillment in Him. In the second reading, St. Paul who was then in jail awaiting execution reminded the Philippians as well us today to provide everyone with good examples of imitating Christ. Reading the whole letter, we find St. Paul dispelling the concerns of the Philippians then about so many material things in life, telling them to always live in Christ. Possessions do not last unlike lessons learned and gained from sacrifices and love, service and fidelity to God that bear fruit not only in this life but even hereafter. Let us not be focused with the temporal things alone. Let us count our blessings this past week and examine our fruits.

What have we become after all the blessings we have received from God? Unlike being successful, fruitfulness always leads to fulfillment. We may have all the material things in life but how about the more essential and profound ones like peace and joy found in God through family and friends. Another spiritual guide of our time wrote a few decades ago like Fr. Henri Nouwen, St. Mother Teresa who said  “we Christians are called to be faithful not successful.” A blessed a fruitful week!

Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II,
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista,
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan