4th of May 1946.
« Peace to you, My friends. The Lord is good. He grants us to meet for a brotherly meal. Where were you going? » Jesus asks the ex-shepherds while making His way into a thicket to protect Himself from the sun.
« Some towards the sea, some towards the mountains. We came here together, growing in numbers all the time, as other groups joined us along the road » says Daniel, formerly a shepherd in Lebanon.
« Yes, and the two of us would like to go as far as Great Hermon to nourish our hearts where we pastured our flocks » says his companion Benjamin.
« It is a good idea. I will go to Nazareth for some time, later I will be at Capernaum and Bethsaida until the new moon of Elul. I am telling you so that you may find Me in case of need. Sit down and let us put together our victuals to share them according to justice. »
They do so spreading their... wealth on a piece of cloth: cakes, cheese, salt fish, olives, some eggs, the first apples... and they share out the food as cheerfully as they had laid it down, after Jesus has offered and blessed it.
How pleased they are with the unhoped-for feast of love! They forget tiredness and heat, lost as they are in the joy of listening to Jesus, Who inquires about what they have done, gives them advice, or tells them what He has done. And although the very warm hour of a sultry day would make one drowsy, they are so interested that no one yields to sleep. And when the meal is over and the few provisions left have been collected and divided into equal parts among them, they move into the thickest part of the nearest brushwood on the hill, and sitting around Jesus in the shade of the trees, they beg Him to tell them a beautiful parable, which they may use as a practical rule of life and teaching.
Jesus, Who is sat facing the plain of Esdraelon, now bare of crops but luxuriant in vineyards and orchards, turns His eyes round looking at the panorama as if He were looking for a subject in what He sees. He smiles. He has found it. He begins with a general question: « The vineyards in this plain are beautiful, are they not? »
« Yes, very beautiful. They are extraordinarily laden with grapes which are maturing. And they are very well kept. That is why they yield so much. »
« They must be plants of great value... » insinuates Jesus. And He concludes: « As the plain is divided into estates belonging to rich Pharisees, they have cultivated it with good plants regardless of expenses. »
« Oh! It would have been of no use to purchase the best plants, if they had not been taken care of continually. I am an expert in the matter because I grow vines in all my property. But if I do not toil hard, that is, if I had not toiled hard at it, as my brothers continue to do now, believe me, Master, I would not be able to offer You at vintage time grapes like those of last year » says a strong man, about forty years old, whom I think I have already seen, but whose name I do not remember.
« You are right, Cleopas. The whole secret to have good fruits is to take care of our property » say another man.
« Good fruits and good profits. Because if the land gave only what one spends on it, it would still be a bad investment of money. The land must yield the fruit of the capital it costs us, plus a profit enabling us to increase our wealth. Because we must consider that a father has to divide his property among his sons. And of one property, be it land or money, he has to make several parts, one for each son, to give each of them what to live on. I do not think that we are to be blamed if we increase our property for the benefit of our children » insists Cleopas.
« You are not, if you achieve it by honest work and in an honest manner. So you say that notwithstanding the good quality of the seedlings planted out, it is necessary to toil hard at them to have a profit? »
« Most certainly so! Before we have the first bunches... Because it takes time, you know! Because one must have patience and work as well while the young shoots have only leaves. And later, when they begin to yield fruit and are strong, one must watch that there are no useless vine-branches, harmful insects and that parasitic grass do not impoverish the soil. And you have to ensure that the vine-branches are not suffocated by the foliage of bushes and bindweed and you have to dig round the foot of the vine forming circles so that dew may penetrate and water may stagnate a little longer than elsewhere nourishing the plant, and you have to spread manure... Hard work! But it is necessary, even if it is unpleasant, because grapes, so sweet, so beautiful, that each bunch seems a collection of precious stones, grow exactly by sucking fetid black manure. It seems impossible but it is so! And one has to thin out the leaves so that the sun may shine on the bunches, and when vintage is over, one has to arrange the vines, tying and pruning them, covering the roots with straw and excrement, to protect them against frost, and also during winter one has to go and see whether the wind or some robber has pulled off the stakes and whether the weather has loosened the withes by which the branches are tied to the stakes... Oh! there is always something to be done until the vine is completely withered... And then there is still work to be done to remove it from the soil, which is to be cleaned out taking away all the roots so that it may be ready to receive a new plant. And do You know how one must work patiently with a light hand and eyes wide awake extricating the vine-shoots of the dead plants entangled with those of the vines still alive? If one acted foolishly and with a heavy hand, how much damage would be caused! One must be of the trade to know that!... The vines? They are like children! And before a child becomes a man, how hard one has to work to keep him sound in body and mind!... But I am speaking all the time and I am not letting You speak... You promised us a parable... »
« Actually you have already told it. It would be sufficient to apply your conclusion and say that souls are like vines... »
« No, Master! You must speak. I... I have talked nonsense and we cannot do the work of application by ourselves... »
« All right. Listen.
When we had an animal body in the womb of our mother, God created a soul in Heaven to make the future man in His likeness and He infused it into the body which was forming in the womb. And man, when it was time for him to be born, was born with a soul, which up to the age of reason was like land left uncultivated by its master. But when man reached the age of reason, he began to reason and to tell Good from Evil. He then realised that he had a vineyard to cultivate to his liking. And he became aware that he had a vine-dresser in charge of his vineyard: his free will. In fact the freedom to guide himself, which God granted to man, His son, is like an efficient servant, granted by God to man, His son, to assist him to make his vineyard fertile, that is his soul.
If man did not have to work by himself to become rich, to build for himself an eternal future of supernatural prosperity, if he should have had to receive everything from God, what merit would he have in re-creating himself in holiness, after Lucifer had corrupted the initial holiness given gratuitously by God to the first parents? It is already a great gift that the creatures, who had fallen by inheritance of fault, are granted by God the possibility to deserve a reward and become holy, by being born again, through their own will, to the initial nature of perfect creatures, as the Creator had given to Adam and Eve, and to their children, if the first parents had remained free from the original Fault. Man, who had fallen, must become a chosen man through his free will. Now, what happens to souls? This. Man entrusts his soul to his will, to his free will, which begins to work the vineyard that had remained so far a piece of ground without vines, a good ground, but bare of durable plants. During the first years of its existence only frail grass and caducous flowers had grown on it: the instinctive goodness of a child who is good because he is an angel still unaware of Good and Evil.
You may ask: “How long does he remain such?” We generally say: for the first six years. But in actual fact there are precocious reasons so that we have children who are responsible for their actions before the age of six. There are children who are responsible for their actions also at three, four years of age, and they are responsible because they know what is Good and what is Evil, and they freely want the former or the latter. The moment a child can tell a good action from a bad one, that child is responsible. Not before. Thus a fool, even if one hundred years old, is irresponsible, but his guardians are responsible in his place and they must lovingly watch over him and his neighbour who may be damaged by the dull-witted or foolish fellow, so that he may not harm himself or other people. But God does not impute any fault to the idiot or fool, because unfortunately they are deprived of reason. But we are talking of intelligent beings, sound in mind and body.
So man entrusts his uncultivated vineyard to his vine-dresser: his free will, which begins to cultivate it. The soul, that is the vineyard, has a voice and makes the free will hear it. It is a supernatural voice nourished by supernatural voices which God never denies souls: the voice of the Guardian, those of the spirits sent by God, the voice of Wisdom, those of the supernatural remembrances which every soul recollects, although man does not have a precise perception of them. And the vineyard speaks to the free will, in a kind and imploring voice, begging it to adorn it with good plants, to be active and wise so that it may not become a wild, sterile, poisonous thicket of thorn-bushes, where serpents and scorpions nest, foxes have their earths and martens and other evil quadrupeds their holes.
Free will is not always a good cultivator. It does not always watch over the vineyard and defend it with an impassable hedge, that is with firm good will, aiming at protecting the soul from robbers, from parasites, from all harmful things, from strong winds which might cause the little flowers of good resolutions to fall off when they have hardly begun to be desired. Oh! what a high strong hedge is required around the heart to save it from evil! How one must watch to ensure that it is not forced, and that no one opens either large gaps through which dissipations may enter, or sly little openings, at its base, through which vipers creep in: the seven capital vices! How necessary it is to hoe, to burn weeds, to prune, to trench, to manure through mortification and take care of one's soul through love for God and for our neighbour. And it is necessary to watch with wide open bright eyes and mind wide awake that the vine-shoots which appeared to be good, do not turn out to be bad, and if that should happen, they are to be extirpated mercilessly. One plant only, but perfect, is better than many useless or noxious ones.
We have hearts, we have therefore vineyards which are always cultivated, in which new vines are planted by an extravagant cultivator who piles up new plants: he wants to do this work and that one, he has ideas, which are not even wicked, then he neglects them and they become evil, they fall on the ground, they degenerate and die... How many virtues perish because they are mingled with sensuality, they are not cultivated, because, in short, free will is not supported by love! How many thieves enter to rob, to tamper with things, to extirpate, because one's conscience falls asleep instead of being vigilant, because one's will loses its strength and becomes corrupted, because one's free will is seduced, and although free, it becomes a slave to Evil. But consider! God made it free and yet free will becomes a slave to passions, to sin, to concupiscence, to Evil in a word. Pride, wrath, avarice, lust, first mixed with, then triumphant over good plants!... A disaster! How much drought there is that parches plants, because people no longer pray, whereas prayer is union with God, and therefore a dew of beneficial juices for the soul! How much frost freezes roots through lack of love for God and our neighbour! How much poorness of soil, because people refuse the manuring of mortification and humility! What an inextricable tangle of good and bad vine-shoots, because one has not the courage to suffer cutting off what is noxious! That is the state of a soul whose guardian and cultivator is an extravagant free will inclined to Evil.
Whereas the soul whose free will lives in an orderly way - and therefore in submission to the Law given so that man may know what is order, how it is and how it is kept - and is heroically faithful to Good, because Good elevates man and makes him similar to God, whereas Evil makes him brutal and similar to a demon, is a vineyard bedewed with the pure, plentiful useful waters of faith, appropriately shaded by trees of hope, warmed by the sun of charity, controlled by will, matured by mortification, tied with obedience, pruned by strength, guided by justice, watched over by wisdom and conscience. And Grace increases assisted by so much help, Holiness increases and the vineyard becomes a wonderful garden, where God descends for His delight. Providing the vineyard always remains a perfect garden till the death of the creature, God has such work of a willing good free will brought by His angels into the great eternal Garden of Heaven.
You certainly want that lot for yourselves. So watch that the Demon, the World and the Flesh do not seduce your free will and ruin your souls. Watch that there is love in you, but not self-regard, which extinguishes love and puts the soul in the power of various sensualities and disorder. Be vigilant until the end and storms may wet you but not hurt you, and laden with fruit you will go to your Lord for the eternal reward.
I have finished. Now meditate and rest until sunset while I retire to pray. »
« No, Master. We must not delay in setting out to arrive at some house » says Peter.
« Why? There is time until sunset! » say many.
« I am not thinking of sunset or of the Sabbath. I am thinking that within an hour there will be a violent storm. See those tongue-shaped dark clouds which are rising slowly from the mountain ranges of Samaria? And those which are so white and are progressing rapidly from the west? A lower wind is blowing the former, an upper wind the latter. But when they are here above us, the upper wind will yield to sirocco and the dark clouds, laden with hailstones, will come down and clash with the white ones, laden with lightning, and then you will hear some music! Come on, quick! I am a fisherman and I can read in the sky. »
Jesus is the first to obey and they all set off quickly towards the farm-houses in the plain...
At the bridge they meet Judas who shouts: « Oh! My Master! How much I have suffered without You! Praised be the Lord Who has rewarded my perseverance in waiting for You here! How did things go at Caesarea? »
« Peace to you, Judas » briefly replies Jesus and He adds: « We will speak in the house. Come, a storm is impending. »
In fact gusts of wind begin to raise clouds of dust from the parched roads, the sky becomes overcast with clouds of all shapes and shades, and the air is yellow and lurid... And the first large, warm, sparse drops begin to fall and the first lightning furrows the sky, which is now almost dark...
They begin to run and goaded by the desire not to get drenched to the skin, they arrive at the first house when, amid the roar of a thunderbolt which falls nearby, a deluge of rain and hailstones falls upon the area causing a strong smell of damp earth and of ozone exhaling from the incessant lightning.
They go in and fortunately the house is provided with porches and is inhabited by peasants believing in the Messiah. And with veneration they invite the Master to make Himself at home with His companions « as if He were in His own house. But raise Your hand and disperse the hail, out of pity for our work » they say crowding round Jesus.
Jesus raises His hand and blesses the four cardinal points, and rain only pours from the sky to water orchards, vineyards, meadows and to purify the heavy atmosphere.
« May You be blessed, Lord! » says the head of the family. « Come in, my Lord! »
And while the rain is pelting down, Jesus enters a very large room, a storeroom, and tired as He is, He sits down surrounded by His apostles.