The Enemy of Ingratitude
Our interior life grants our exterior life form. Who we are on the inside determines how we act on the outside. This also indicates that who I am on the inside will effect who my wife and children become. Recall that our family’s destiny—to a great extent—is dependent upon us embracing our identity. If I trust in God the Father my family will consequently learn how to trust God as Father. If however, I do not trust the Father, my family will catch this spiritual disease of doubt and disbelief, which almost always has devastating, debilitating effects on our lives. Perhaps in no other area is this dynamic exemplified as well as in the area of gratitude. One of the greatest enemies of fatherly leadership is ingratitude. If I am ungrateful, I become resentful of God, jealous of others, envious of what others have, which eventually leads to grasping for more, being greedy, selfishly protecting what is mine, being miserly, rather than giving . This miserliness robs me of true joy. When we lack gratitude, we lack joy, when we lack joy we cause those around us sadness, frustration and pain. Our Lord conveyed this truth powerfully in His “Parable of the Vine dressers.”
The Parable of the Vine Dressers
The householder is the heavenly Father Who has given man the vineyard, a symbol of creation, but also a symbol of our vocation—our very lives. Notice that the Householder, who represents God, did five things: First He planted the vineyard, which means that God has established and created our world, our lives, our talents and gifts, our families, in such a manner to ensure that we will be fruitful. In other words, God provides nearly everything for us to ensure that we have joy—we simply need to work with what He has given. Second, He put a hedge around the vineyard. The hedge, was usually comprised of a thick stone wall built for the purpose of keeping predators and animals from trampling the vineyard or stealing its produce. In other words, God not only provides for us, but also protects us. He calls us to live within the protective bubble of grace. But when we selfishly step outside of grace we endanger ourselves, our vocation and our families. Third, the Householder dug a vat. The vat was usually built within a stone foundation, and it was within the vat that the juice from the crushed grapes—which would eventually become wine—was stored. Our vocation as fathers is the wine press and the vat—a grace making machine. We provide the grapes—the hard work—and God will transform this work into wine—into grace—provided that we do it for Him and offer it to Him. Fourth, He built a tower. The tower provided additional protection which enabled the vine dresser to view the beauty of the surrounding landscape and to also catch sight of enemies as they approached. The tower is a symbol of our prayer life, which informs our vocation. This tower of prayer, scrapes the heavens and affords us clear vision of our enemies and our God-given mission and destiny. Fifth, the Father, lends out the vineyard, trusting that we will use it to bear much fruit. In other words, God the Father entrusts us with our vocation as fathers not simply to spend our lives on ourselves, but to live for others—for our family. You give you live. You use you lose. Our glory as fathers is in self-giving love.
The Consequence of Ingratitude
The challenge proposed by the parable is to believe that God has indeed given all of this to us and to allow this truth to truth of His generosity to inspire us to give a portion of our lives in return to God. In other words, the parable challenges us to be grateful. Notice when the Householder sends His Son to “obtain a portion” of the fruits (See Mark and Luke’s account) the vine dressers, seized the Son, cast Him out of vineyard and killed Him. The Son is obviously a symbol of Jesus, Who the Jews, Pharisees and Scribes murdered in order to maintain their power—their own personal kingdom. Their ingratitude caused them to perceive God as an enemy. They understood God—the Householder— as one who was robbing them of the fruits of their labors. They lost the vision and understanding that the power and authority they had was given to them from above. The householder had given them everything. This is the perennial challenge for each of us: to use our vocation for the glory of God, or to use our gifts and talents solely for ourselves. We each have been given a kingdom in which we fathers are kings—our domestic church. But if we are selfish with that kingdom, we can expect that kingdom to be taken and given to another. (see Matt 22:43)
The Wine Press
Often it is easy to misunderstand that the message being transmitted by the warnings contained in Christ’s parables is that God is against us, that He is out to make our lives difficult. “I have come that you may have life and that you may be miserable.” Though such a thought is ridiculous, we have not so much been taught this but rather caught—like a bad flue—this insidious lie. Is God against us? Is this the message conveyed in this parable? To understand the message that Christ is communicating in this parable, it is important that we understand the context in which it was being given.
Glory, Honor and Power
A faithful Jew in Jesus’ day, who heard Jesus’ parable would have immediately recalled Psalm 8. Psalm 8 was a hymn, an ode written by King David to give God thanks. This psalm was sung to the melody of a well-known, profane song titled, “The Winepress.” David took a profane melody titled, “The Winepress” and redeemed it by associating the tune to the following words:
“When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou has established; what is man, that Thou are mindful of him or the son of man, that Thou art concerned about him. And Thou has made him a little less than the Angels, Thou has crowned him with glory, and honor; Tho has given him power over the works of your hands, Thou hast placed all things under his feet… O lord, our Lord, how admirable is Thy name in the whole earth!”
Our Lord, by means of telling this parable was reminding His listeners of the message contained in this Psalm: God, far from begin against us, is for us. He has given you and I glory, honor, power—power over His works, and has placed all things under our feet. God has given us everything, including Himself, and should we not use that glory to glorify the Glorious One. The “winepress,” our vocation, is the place of battle wherein we are faced with the challenge to either give back or hoard the proceeds. So how do we give some of the proceeds of our vocation in return to God?
Gratitude Returns the Gift to the Giver
Mary and Joseph took the twelve year old Jesus, for the first time, to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. After the feast was completed, Mary and Joseph began their journey home, only to discover that Jesus was not with them. Anxiously they returned to Jerusalem and after three long, painful days, they found the child in the temple. Jesus returned home with them, going down with them to Nazareth, where He grew in wisdom and strength. What is the point of all of this? Joseph gives Jesus to God and God gives Jesus in return to Joseph. Jesus desired to give Himself to the Father as the age of twelve, but God the Father returned Jesus to Joseph to continue to raise Him to be a gift of self-sacrificial love.
From St. Joseph we learn that we are to be an example of gratitude to our children in three basic ways: by involving our children in our worship. Perhaps we take them to the Sacrament of Confession with us once a month, or to Holy Mass during the week, or simply thank God with them before meals and bedtime. Second, we offer our children to God by means of praying for them and presenting them to God, asking for His grace and mercy and favor to be upon them. This can be accomplished powerfully by blessing our children each day. Third, we ought to be thankful for the children God has given us by rasing them in the ways of God. It is certain that Jesus’ three day absence caused Joseph stress. Yet, he received his Son in thanksgiving and continued to craft the cross of self-giving love with Jesus in the humble workshop in Nazareth. Our children will test our patience, cause us stress and perhaps worry us to death. However, by patiently loving them, and teaching them to be a gift to God, the pain and anxiety will be worth the trials.
Be Not afraid
This is the context of the “winepress” wherein we will be faced with the challenge over and over again to trust that Jesus wants our joy and our children’s joy to be complete. So many dads believe that by raising their children in the ways of Christ that they are somehow robbing them of their potential joy. Test that. Look around. Is that really the case? Our world is miserable precisely because it does not know Christ. So many children have an attitude of brattitude because they have no one to teach them Christ’s attitude of gratitude.
Joy is the mark of a great father and true joy is born from being thankful. We must trust Jesus by giving Christ to our children in order that our children can give themselves to Christ. By doing so, we defeat the enemy of ingratitude which leads to selfishness and rather live in a spirit of gratitude which brings true joy.