“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6).
In the last few Sundays, we have heard Jesus present parables in our Gospel passages; and interestingly, almost all of them have been centred on working in the vineyard. From the man who kept hiring labourers in his vineyard, to the two sons who were asked by their father to go and work in his vineyard, and today the tenants who refused to deliver the expected products of the vineyard. No doubt, these parables contain a lot of lessons for us. Lessons if applied, can help us gain a deeper understanding of life and help us live very happy and contented lives free from all anxiety.
1. This World Is Not Ours.
Just as Jim Reeves sang, “This world is not my home…” Jesus is reminding us once again that we are just tenants at best in this world. The vineyard does not belong to us, we brought nothing to this world (as Job would say: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb”) and more still just as the householder worked hard to put everything in place (planting, digging and building) before hiring the tenants, God created a world and put everything in order before creating us humans to “till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15).
Too often, like the tenants in Jesus’ parable, we so easily forget that we are mere caretakers in this world; that no matter how hard we try, we can never own anything in this world. Painfully, all our problems; our fights and quarrels; our worries and anxieties arise from our attempts to own the world. No wonder St. John says: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it.” (1 John 2:15-17).
Consider the parable and you would see it is a true picture of life on earth today. Know this: your money, your house, your land, your clothes even your body; everything in your name is not yours. This is why Jesus tells us “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20).
2. Stop Worrying Over What Is Not (And Can Never Become) Yours.
Isn’t it funny that we spend out entire lives worrying about the things that we didn’t even bring into this world in the first place? Isn’t it strange that after all our struggles and pain, sleepless nights and headaches, we would still have to relinquish everything one day? As the author of the book of Ecclesiastes asked: “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). No matter how wealthy, successful or influential we become, when our time comes, we must go. So why worry? On the other hand, no matter how poor we are, we must go. So why worry?
Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27). In fact, this brings us to our second reading today where we hear St. Paul say: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6).
The truth is that there are times we just cannot help it. There are moments when I feel like the world is just crumbling on my feet; moments I am overwhelmed with so much fear that I only imagine the worst. The only cure for this feeling as St. Paul says is PRAYER (acknowledging God who is the owner of this world, making your requests known in faith Cf. Matthew 7:7) and THANKSGIVING. Yes, gratitude works magic. Learn to give thanks when you are worried, it helps to shift your mind away from the pain and give you a reason to smile.
3. Avoid Negativity; Learn to Select Your Thoughts.
In our second reading, St. Paul clearly defines the kinds of thoughts that are permitted in our minds as Christians. He says: “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8). In essence, St. Paul is saying: “Give no room for negativity.”
Come to think of it, were these the kind of thoughts in the minds of the tenants of today’s Gospel passage? If their thoughts were honourable, pure or lovely, would they beat up the servants who were sent to collect the produce of the vineyard? If their thoughts were good, would they kill the son of the householder? Dear friends, we need to realize that the mind is so powerful and the kind of thoughts we allow determine our very lives. As the book of Proverbs says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23). Even St. Paul warns that when we allow bad thoughts in our minds, we make the Holy Spirit in us sad. (Cf. Ephesians 4:30-32).
I am ashamed of saying this, but I would be playing the ostrich if I don’t face the truth. The average Nigerian today is thinking of how to play a fast one on another. Virtually every one of us has fallen victim at one point or another to some clearly devised trick. The one that is breaking my heart now is health officials pronouncing fake COVID-19 tests; telling people their results are positive when no tests were even done at all – just to collect huge sums of money from innocent persons planning to travel abroad. We are like these tenants in our Gospel passage; corruption has eaten too deep into our collective mentality; even a five-year old child cannot be trusted.
4. Make Use of Your Opportunities in Life or they will go to Others.
Jesus concludes our Gospel passage with the words: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21:43). Dear friends, the will of God must certainly be done. If we refuse to cooperate with God, He will surely find others who are willing. As Jesus said in our Gospel passage last Sunday: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31).
Your talents are gifts, your parents are gifts, your unique experiences in life are gifts –they are all opportunities in disguise. God does not work arbitrarily, He plans long before He does something (Cf. Jeremiah 29:11). Nothing happens by chance. Your life is not a mistake. Consider everything that has ever happened to you as God’s way of planting a vineyard, setting the hedge, digging a wine press and building a tower for you. Now, God expects you to bear fruits. You must give an account of your life.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, when my time here is over, may I bring a pleasing report before you. Amen.
Year A. Bible Study: Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80, Philippians 4:6-9 & Matthew 21:33-43).