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By your fruit they shall know you

The vineyard of the Lord plays host to the House of Israel in the first reading in today’s liturgy. However, the Lord laments that when he came to the vineyard to look for and find justice, all he discovered was bloodshed, leaving the Lord shouting for justice.

The prophet, Isaiah, describes the successive generations of Israel as called to be the repairers of what is breached, or people cooperating with God to fix what is wrong in the world.

However, when Jesus addresses this issue in a parable, he does not do it with the people who would have understood the obligation to repair, but with the scribes and Pharisees, the religious elders, and they gave him no ear.

As the caretakers of the vineyard, it was their responsibility to raise the people up, but rather, their practice was to increase the burden they had to carry, by continually imposing new taxes, more work to be done and cutting back on freedom.

The parable is relevant today. It is a scrutiny of the leaders of our own world, society, community and Church. How do they act? Are they working to lessen the burden that people have to carry?

In Hong Kong, we see land and housing prices manipulated upwards, placing home ownership out of the reach of more and more people. We see glittering shopping malls forcing traditional vendors out of their shops, out of business even or radically increasing their rental.

We see opposition to a decent wage for working people, even though it is well known that wages are not the big cost for business, but the rental and increasing costs of raw material, partly forced upwards by the land-ownership monopoly.

We see people working long hours, returning home tired, without the energy to give quality time to family life, let alone live a decent and fulfilling life.

However, we also see signs of hope. There are people in our society who give their time, expertise and talent to advocacy for decent standards for those who are burdened. We see others giving care and comfort to the sick, shut ins, street children, people afflicted with alcohol or drug addictions, people with special needs and those who bear the heat of the day.

They also stand up for those who are demonised in the eyes of society, like the migrant workers who have been denigrated for having the audacity to seek to clarify their rights in the High Court, by perfectly legal means.

These are people who seek to lessen the burdens that others have placed upon their shoulders. These are the people who tend the vineyard. In the words of the parable, “… who planted the vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it and built a tower.”

However, of those who seek to create burdens for others to carry, the parable says, “He will put these wretched men to a wretched death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper time.”

We are all but tenants in this world. The call of the Lord is to produce, to do “what is wonderful in the eyes of the Lord.” And to those who seek to destroy, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that will produce fruit.”