This Gospel parable touches on a number of important themes. Perhaps most significantly, in the final chapters of Matthew, it has Jesus foretelling his own death, as the son of the vineyard owner, and reminding his disciples of what is at stake.
But this Sunday, it speaks to us with a particular urgency and immediacy. It strikes close to home.
For we are a people who have known violence in the vineyard.
The leaves are stained with blood and tears.
It has only been a week. The shock and the grief are still palpable. In Las Vegas and around the world, many are asking “Why?” and “How?” They are questions, it seems, we have asked too often, always with a different dateline. The names form a litany of loss: Columbine. Newtown. Virginia Tech. Orlando.
And now Las Vegas.
In Spanish, the name of the city translates to “The Meadows”—a place of life and growth, suggesting endless fields of possibility.
Yet: our scripture tells us that it was out in a meadow, a field beyond Eden, where one brother first raised his hand against another.
The evil we’ve been dissecting over the last few days is as old as human history—and so is the sorrow that comes after.
And again and again in moments like these, when we take the measure of violence in the vineyard, when we search for answers and solutions after a massacre that seems so senseless, we also find ourselves searching, sometimes desperately, for hope.
This horror, in particular, struck with cruel irony—at the very beginning of a month the Catholic Church has dedicated to Respecting Life.
How are we to process this?
Read the headlines, watch cable TV or scan social media and it is easy to become cynical or dispirited—to lose hope.
But this much we know: hope persists.
In spite of everything.
The morning after the attack, Reuters told the story of a tourist from Nova Scotia who hailed a cab on the Vegas strip and told the driver, simply, “Take me to the nearest blood bank.” Thousands of other people had the same idea. What followed was astonishing: the pictures showed people standing in line for hours around the city. And they came from everywhere.
Blood bank workers said they met donors from Arizona and California and as far away as China, Japan, Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil and Switzerland. People gave up a day of their vacation to give whatever they could. There was the story of Javier Wong, a humble restaurant worker. He had emigrated to Las Vegas from Panama 25 years ago. Now he wanted to give his blood. He said it was a way to give back to the city that had given him so much.
Yes: Hope persists. Gratitude persists.
And during this Respect Life month, a belief in life persists.
A belief that life matters, and must be treasured, and needs to be saved.
In spite of a culture that tells us life is dispensable or disposable, countless people in Las Vegas—from police to rescue workers to blood donors to strangers who threw themselves over the wounded to protect them—all of these people said, “Life matters.”
There are the stories of strangers shredding their shirts to turn them into turnaquets for people they didn’t know. There were police who stood up to shout directions and give help while people at the concert crouched in fear. And there was the husband who shielded his wife, holding her in his arms so that he took the bullets that would have killed her, but killed him instead.
The sense of selflessness and sacrifice and love is humbling—and, really, overwhelming. It stands in defiance of evil.
But this is our calling card as Christians.
Just last Wednesday, Pope Francis in his General Audience put it this way:
“A real Christian,” he said, “is …convinced by the power of the Resurrection that no evil is infinite, no night is without end, no person is permanently in error, no hatred is stronger than love.”
Even after violence in the vineyard. Hope persists. So does faith.
St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians this morning reminds of something we easily forget, the power of prayer:
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.
How much we need that peace of God! How much we need to know that this pain will pass.
Ten years ago, the world was trying to make sense of the massacre at Virginia Tech. It happened just before Easter in 2007, when a gunman opened fire, killing 32 people and wounding 17 others. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting carried out by a single gunman in modern U.S. history.
The writer Philip Yancey preached a sermon at the school shortly after the killings. He told the students and families: “Trust a God who can redeem what now seems unredeemable.”
And he explained:
“Ten days before the shootings on this campus,” he said, “Christians around the world remembered the darkest day of human history, the day in which evil human beings violently rose up against God’s Son…We remember that day not as Dark Friday, Tragic Friday, or Disaster Friday—but rather as Good Friday. That awful day led to the salvation of the world and to Easter, an echo in advance of God’s bright promise to make all things new.”
This Sunday, we are reminded that the vineyard can be a place of violence.
But we cannot forget: the vineyard is also a place of growth, and potential, and renewal.
For it is the vine that gives us precious grapes, which in time can become the Precious Blood—the real presence of our savior here and now.
As we prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist, we pray as Paul taught, with trust in a merciful God, without anxiety, seeking consolation for those who mourn, peace for those who suffer, reassurance for those who doubt.
The horror that happened in a place called “The Meadows” cannot deprive us of these certainties: Love endures. Every life matters.
And hope persists.