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Don't Worry — Prosper

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By Marc Massery (Oct 6, 2017)
The readings for the 27th Sunday in ordinary time describe how God provides everything we need to live fruitful lives, free of anxiety.

In the first reading from the book of Isaiah, a landowner does everything he can to prepare for a superior harvest of grapes. After planting the best grapevines in the most fertile soil, he protects his fruit with hedges, walls, and even a watchtower. He installs a wine press in the hopes of producing the finest wine.

Despite all this work, he discovers that his crop yielded wild, useless grapes. He asks, "What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?" (Is 5:4). He proceeds to tear down the walls of the vineyard, allowing the animals to trample the vines and graze upon the land.

The landowner represents God, and the grapes represent the people of Israel. God provided everything His people needed to thrive, but they turned away from Him and suffered the consequences of their actions.

In the Gospel reading from the book of Matthew, Christ tells a parable about a landowner who prepares for a fruitful harvest in much the same way as the landowner in the first reading. The landowner in Christ's story, however, leases his vineyard out to tenants and then leaves town. At harvest time, the landowner sends three servants to collect the rent. The tenants, wanting to keep all the money for themselves, beat and kill the rent collectors.

The landowner does not immediately fight back. Showing the tenants tremendous patience, he simply sends more servants. The tenants, however, kill the next group of servants, too. Finally, the landowner sends his own son to collect the rent, thinking, "They will respect my son" (Matt 21:37). In the end, the tenants kill his son as well, in the hopes of stealing his money.

Christ is telling an obvious allegory of the Jewish people of His time and their rejection of God's messengers. This parable, though, tells us more than the story of salvation history. It speaks to us here and now and asks, why do we refuse to do God's will when He provides us with everything we need? To answer this question, we must contemplate why the tenants became greedy and violent.

When a new vineyard was planted, it took a minimum of two years for it to produce fruit. The tenants, therefore, had to remain patient in order to reap the benefits of their labor. All that time, though, they wondered if the harvest would provide enough to sustain them. Finally, when the harvest did come, they tried to keep it all for themselves, refusing to give the landowner his due. They became greedy and violent because they feared that they would not have enough to be satisfied.

Though we do not necessarily have the temptation to kill like the tenants in the Gospel, we might worry if God will provide for us. Will I ever find the right person to marry? Will my marriage issues ever resolve? Will I make enough money to provide for my family? Will my children ever find their way? Will I ever find a job? Will I suffer with this illness forever? Does God really know what I need?

When we worry, we tend to turn from God and try to take our problems into our own hands. When we do, we act like the tenants. We do not recognize all that God has already provided for us, and we refuse to trust that He will provide for us in the future.

The Second reading from St. Paul says:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7).

To combat anxiety, Paul suggests that we turn to God in prayer. When we tell God our needs, we can trust that He will provide everything for us.

Sometimes, though, we can't help worrying about the future. After all, we are only human. We must, therefore, contemplate what St. Paul says in the second reading:

[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things ...
Then the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:8-9)

When we become filled with fear, we should do more than simply ask God to take it away. We must overwhelm the evil in our lives with goodness. Paul tells us how to do this. We must participate in things that are "just ... pure ... lovely ... gracious ... [and] excellent" (Phil 4: 8-9). We can do this by attending Mass, going to confession, praying the Rosary, saying the Divine Office, and reading Scripture. Even listening to beautiful music can help us realize God's goodness.

We must, therefore, strive to follow God's will, trusting that He will provide for us. We can increase our trust in Him by looking around at all He has already provided for us, and contemplating holy things. Then, fear will no longer consume us, and God can produce in us abundant fruit.

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