2 Oct, Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
The church is the choice vineyard of the Lord, planted for a noble and productive purpose. Here we can grow to maturity in the sunshine of God’s grace. But the vineyard can fall into disuse, or fail to produce the expected fruits of loving mercy. We pray that our lives may never be soured by bitterness or disillusionment.
Is 5:1-7. Israel is the vineyard which God has most carefully tended. When it bore no fruit he threatens to punish it with a storm.
Phil 4:6-9. Paul says: “pray with confidence.” He exorts to a good and virtuous life with the marvellous summary, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pleasing..”
Mt 21:33-43. As in the first reading, God is master of the vineyard. Since the first tenants proved themselves unworthy, that vineyard was to be taken from them and given to others.
– that we may grow in wisdom, in tolerance and in humility.
– that our minds be filled with everything that is true and noble, whatever is good and pure, by the grace of Christ.
– that we may never become soured by life’s disappointments.
– for our parents, teachers and others who have nurtured our faith by word and example.
History being Made (Patrick Rogers)
Should we “stand idly by” or should we let life snap us into action? Others may make history, we sometimes think, while we are merely spectators and critics of the process. Attuned by the mass media to believe in a qualitative difference between “personalities” and the general public, people often feel that they have no significant contribution to make. But our faith is strong on the part each one must play, in making the local church a living community. This is Christian history in the making.
Isaiah insists that God expects fruit from each vine in His Vineyard. Every one of us must yield some harvest of kind thoughts and good deeds, when the Lord sends out his messengers at vintage-time. The real stuff of history, according to this inspired prophet, is in people doing the ordinary things that God expects of them. Paul has the same idea, when he compares the community to a body, whose every organ has some vital role to play perhaps this thought could be expanded into a homily on everyday dutifulness, or on holiness attained through little things.)
The violence and malice of the tenants in the Vineyard parable (towards the servants sent to collect the harvest) could provide an alternative homily theme. Why is there so much violence in the world, some of it flaring into murderous aggression but much of it socially, economically and legally institutionalised in ways that keep so many people poor? Is it not linked to the excessive love of property and hence the ferocity with which the haves tend to defend their status and possessions, against the have-nots, come what may?
In a more hopeful key, one could highlight Christ’s conclusion to the parable: that the Kingdom will be give to a people who will produce its fruit. Somehow, God draws good from evil. Nothing is so dark but that there is no silver lining. Israel’s rejection of the Gospel led to its spreading more quickly among the other nations. In the end, God’s plans will be fulfilled, however surprisingly. There is a wisdom in the traditional counsel: “Work as though all depended on you; pray as though all depends on God’!
Producing fruit, making some mark upon our surroundings as we pass through life, can be done in spite of adverse circumstances. Patients in hospital can have therapeutic effect on their fellow patients. Even in the concentration-camps of World War II, people like the psychiatrist Victor Frankl and the Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe showed generous care for others and helped them through their ordeal. From his prison cell in Rome, St Paul maintained his letters of friendly encouragement towards his converts. Today’s few verses are a fine tribute to his ability to soldier on, no matter what. The ideals he proposes to the Philippians are a fine guideline to the quality of life which God hopes to find in us, his people and his vineyard!
Sour Grapes (Liam Swords)
He was a cultivated man, fluent in several languages. Grace and nature had endowed him with formidable talent. As a university professor he had gained recognition in his field. I came to know him on his frequent visits to Paris. At first I was flattered that he should seek out my company when in that city. I suppose it was a sign of my own mediocrity that I should be so easily impressed by those of superior status. Or maybe it was that I had been fortunate in my earlier life to have encountered people steeped in literature and history whose wide learning made them open-minded and humble. One was my father. Another was a priest who taught me in secondary school. I think I owe my vocation to him. As a teenager he was my ideal of what an educated man should be, broad-minded, tolerant and self-effacing. I had assumed my distinguished Paris visitor would be all that and much more. Soon I became disillusioned. I came to dread his visits- and seek to be absent when he called. He was one of the most negative persons had ever met, hyper-critical of everyone and everything. Either he was deeply-flawed by nature or some earlier experience in life had soured him. The only thing that seemed to have blossomed in him was his bitterness. Isaiah’s song brought him to mind:
My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
He dug the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted vines in it.
In the middle he built a tower, he dug a press there too.
He expected it to yield grapes, but sour grapes were all that it gave.
Since then, my earlier idealism has given way to a more realistic appraisal of the value of education. Education, like travel, does not always broaden the mind. I have met other “sour grapes” whose academic achievements seem only to have confirmed their prejudices and reinforced their narrow-mindedness.
Looking at the neat rows of vines on terraced hillsides in France or Italy, I have always been struck by how labour-intensive vine growing is. We have nothing comparable in Ireland. Nothing is left to chance. The carefully pruned branches are meticulously interwoven through strands of wire kept taut by closely spaced stakes. The ground between the rows is kept hoed, no weeds are allowed to rob the soil of nourishment. Grape picking is done by hand. It must be the only area in agriculture untouched by modern machinery. Little seems to have changed since biblical times. The sun provides the secret of success. A vintage year is a long season of summer sun. Grapes fully ripened by the sun produce the best wine. Otherwise sugar must be added to sweeten the grapes. The more sugar added, the more alcoholic the wine and the poorer the quality. The great enemy is frost, either late in spring or early in autumn.
It is no surprise that the vineyard provides the favourite metaphor for religious growth in the Bible, both in the Old and the New Testaments. Our religious growth is the product of careful nurturing by ourselves and others and the warm sunshine of God’s grace. Grace builds on nature. Life’s frost can make us bitter. Frost-bitten branches must be pruned to let the vine grow and flourish. Otherwise, it will yield only sour grapes. Religion, no less than life, has its share of such. Book burning bigots like Savanarola, a far cry from his sweet-tempered founder, St Francis, both products of the same country and the same vineyard.
“Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous and worthy of praise.”
Are We To Judge? (Peter Briscoe)
Both the first reading and gospel present us with the parable of love rejected – both parables are linked by the common image of the vineyard and its owner, both are designed to bring audience reaction in favour of the disappointed ownerlover. We are asked whose side are you on?” We are prompted to reply “We’re for the owner, against the vineyard, and even more against the tenants.”
But what’s the point of that for us? Do we discover that God is the owner” and we the “tenants?” Do we end up judging ourselves? Some commentators say that parable is meant to be subversive: perhaps there is nothing more subversive than being called to judge yourself. than being led to a revolution in yourself against yourself. Does all this mean that the parable is about being continually self critical. continually examining ones conscience to see if one is producing the gifts of Gods love?
Many people today don’t go for this kind of talk. It looks too much like being for God means being against self. It seems to produce an image of God as our rival, one whom we cannot really trust, even an oppressive God; God is seen too much in terms of the “owner” and not enough in terms of the “lover.”
The challenge of the parable is to discover that the God who seeks fruit is the God who gives the vine; the God who is against selfishness is the God who is always “for us.”
The homilist then is invited to arouse in the congregation a relearning that all we have and are is gift, gift not to be selfishly guarded, nor fought for as if we could ever claim it as our own property. Our existence and our promised life will always be gift: we can never claim it as our own. Neither can we ever cease to return its fruits. For the “tenant” who really appreciates the gift and the giver, this “bearing fruit” is not oppression but grateful appreciation.
God trusts his workers (Jim Mazzone)
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
Jesus begins his parable by painting a typical picture of a first century vineyard. It contained the basic staples of which his audience – the chief priests and elders – would have been familiar. A vineyard hedge was a thickly grown hedge of thorns and briars which would naturally keep wild boars and such from plundering the produce and pose a hardship to grape-stealing thieves. Every vineyard would contain within its walls of hedges a wine press. A wine press would either be dug out of rock or constructed with stone blocks or bricks. It would consist of two separate troughs one slightly higher than the other with a connection between them at floor level. When pressed, the juice from the grapes would settle into the lower trough. The tower served various purposes. The foreman could assess the work and give orders from the tower – its lookout could be used to guard against thieves – and its insides might provide a lodging area for the workers of the vineyard.
The arrangement between landowner and tenants of which Jesus speaks would not be out of the ordinary. That is, landowners would plant and build a vineyard and then lease this land to tenants. The landowner would collect his rent by various means. The landowner might collect a previously agreed upon sum of money, a previously agreed upon amount of produce, or a percentage of the total produce harvested. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way
Vintage season would have been in late September before the heavy rainfall would take place. What about the reaction of the tenants when they are called upon to – Pay Up? Was this typical or even probable in the Time of Jesus? Unfortunately, the unrest created by economic hardships and occasional, unfair business practices would create innate hostility toward any landowners from the workers and tenants. Such a reaction could lead to the violence of which Christ speaks.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, They will respect my son. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another – This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance. They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
If the violence leveled against the servants of the landowner was not completely out of the ordinary, what about the probability of such violence against the son of the landowner – with the outcome being the possible inheritance of the vineyard? Is this an unbelievable legal circumstance? According to Jewish law, if a Jewish landowner died without any heir, the tenants who had been working the land would have first claim. Therefore, with the elimination of the son, the only person standing in the way of the impending inheritance is the father himself. One would think that in a legal proceeding the action of murdering the son would immediately disqualify the tenants from the inheritance; however, perhaps we are given a privileged position as hearers of the whole story whereas the details in a court of law would be fuzzier. In short, under the right circumstances, this entire episode could, indeed, unfold in the time of Jesus.
We also identify all the players – in case they are not obvious. The vineyard is the nation of Israel – the chosen people of God. The owner of the vineyard is God. The tenants are the religious leaders of Israel who were responsible for the cultivation of fruitful holiness and the wellbeing of the people of Israel. The servants sent by the landowner are the prophets who God sent to warn, to encourage, to challenge and to reassure; yet they were often greeted with threats of violence and even death. The son in the story is Jesus who is sent by His heavenly Father.
HOMILY theme: Our God is a God who trusts his workers. Just as the landowner gave the tenants a fully equipped vineyard in which to work and produce, God creates the possibilities for work, fruitfulness and success for us too. He provides us with opportunities and resources and trusts that we will make the most of these. Our own, personal vineyards are completely unique. Do we recognize how our lives are molded by God? Do we recognize the opportunities and resources that God has given us? Have we experienced the freedom and trust that God gives us? Have we responded responsibly or have we responded similar to the tenants at times?
The first reading from Isaiah echoes this truth. The friend of Isaiah owns a fertile hillside, he spades it, he clears it of stones, plants the choicest vines, builds the traditional watchtower, installs the typical wine press and then anticipates an excellent and abundant harvest. What he gets instead are wild grapes. We feel the pain of unrequited love in the second half of the reading of Isaiah. We feel the pain of a broken heart acting out in anger – an earthy, anthropomorphic illustration of the disappointment God feels in his people who have not acted justly and with compassion to the lowly and oppressed.