What happened in Las Vegas last Monday was something too overwhelming and too shocking to give it some thought. Fifty-nine people were killed…fifty-nine people! And about five hundred were injured by this vicious shooting. What’s really disturbing is that the perpetrator had no clear reason to do so. He had no criminal records. He was financially stable. He was just one of the seemingly normal people we could meet on the street. And the fact that he was able to purchase more than thirty guns over the last twelve months just terrified me. All these bring us to a fearful awakening that anyone in this nation can be a victim of this kind of horrendous massacre at any given moment by anyone. What’s going wrong?
In this frustrating and fearful situation, people sometimes blame God. Why does the good and all-powerful God allow such evil things to happen in the world? Why?
To this question, we may be able to find some answer from today’s Hebrew Bible and Gospel reading. In those readings, there are two stories about the vineyard owner, referring to God. The owner of the vineyard works so hard and takes good care of the vineyard in anticipation of harvesting good grapes. But strangely, this owner fails to harvest grapes from the vineyard. Isaiah tells that the owner “had a vineyard on a very fertile hill,” and he “dug it,” “cleared it of stones,” “planted it with choice vines,” and “built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it” (Isaiah 5:1-2). But after doing all these onerous jobs, he only gains wild grapes.
The vineyard owner described by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew even gets the worst possible result. He does everything good for the vineyard too and leases it to the tenants before he goes to another country. When the harvest time comes, this owner sends his slaves. But the wicked tenants decide to take over the vineyard from the owner. So they beat the first slave, kill the second, and stone the third. Then they do it all over again and even end up killing the owner’s son. What’s wrong with these vineyards where these unfortunate and tragic things happen? If we were the vineyard owner who toils so much for good fruits but eventually loses many slaves and even a son, we would be just outraged and frustrated. Sure enough, the Bible tells us that there comes a grave judgment upon the ill-productive vines and evil tenants.
Let us go back to the question. Why does the good and all-powerful God allow evil things to happen in the world, in God’s vineyard? According to the two stories, God is not the one who allows or disallows evil things to happen. It’s not what God is up to. God just works hard and does everything good for the vineyard. God truly is the owner cultivating the vineyard and nurturing vines with great care. And God sent the prophets, the leaders, and even the Son, Jesus Christ to us as the owner did in the story. However, the choice vines yield only wild grapes against the intention of the good owner. And the evil tenants of the vineyard choose evil and reject the Son. Indeed, it is us who don’t remain faithful to God and fail to love God in return. Because of us humans, the beautiful vineyard of God becomes deserted and turns into a place of extreme violence. Then, why do we blame God about the existence of evil in the world?
Look around the world. See what is happening now in God’s vineyard. The Las Vegas massacre can only be a tip of the iceberg. The world we’re living in truly is a vineyard full of wild grapes and evil tenants. All God’s hard work for our wellbeing in the vineyard seems to be in vain. In this seemingly hopeless vineyard, the real question should be actually about us—not about God. In all seriousness, we need to ask to ourselves, “Are we still able to bear good fruits as the vines chosen to grow in God’s vineyard? Are we still able to make the vineyard a better place and make it produce good grapes as the tenants chosen to live in God’s vineyard? Are we able?
Living in the vineyard that has been ruined and barren, we may fall down and lose our hope. And we may find ourselves in the pit of skepticism and pessimism. However, the two stories of God’s vineyard assure us of one simple truth. That is…the faithful vineyard owner is still working hard for the vineyard and will continue to toil until the end of the world. The owner will never give up on the vineyard until the Day of Judgment. And until the day, the most incredible thing we can experience is that the graceful owner forgives our fault and gives us the new chance. His Son died for our sins, but he even brings the new life out of the death of the Son for our salvation, for our new life.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us not forget that we are the vines chosen to bear good grapes as our faithful owner grows us. Let us also not forget that we are the tenants, the stewards of God, chosen to keep the vineyard in a good condition. There is so much work for us to do in God’s vineyard. Whenever we feel discouraged, whenever we feel negative about the world, let us remember our Lord, Jesus Christ who is our only hope. By the work of amazing grace, God always leads us to see the resurrected Jesus Christ who becomes the first good fruit of the vineyard and who becomes the everlasting cornerstone on which we may confidently build the kingdom of heaven. Let us follow Jesus’ example and abide in him. Let us nurture and nourish our world with God’s grace to bear fruits of faith, hope, and love.
Are we still able to bear good fruit as the vines chosen to grow in God’s vineyard? Are we still able to make the vineyard a better place and produce good grapes as the tenants chosen to live in God’s vineyard? Are we able? Yes, we are. Yes, we still are with the everlasting grace of our God, with the steadfast love of Jesus Christ, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So as Paul tells us, let us also “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). And through our life, let us continue to make God’s vineyard beautiful and fruitful again. Amen.