27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first section of the Book of Isaiah is the source of this weekend’s first reading. The prophet then speaks directly to the people. He speaks as God, in the first person.
In this reading, the prophet employs an image with which his contemporaries would have been very familiar, the image of the vineyard. The prophet describes the land of God’s people as a vineyard. The vineyard belongs to God. God tends the vineyard. Lavish in generosity and care, God fills the vineyard with the choicest vines.
The author of this section of Isaiah was very disappointed with his people. He saw them moving along a path that would lead to their destruction.
What was happening as a result? The people were polluting God’s vineyard. They became wild grapes, sour and repulsive, unworthy of being in the beautiful vineyard. They themselves were creating their own doom by being disloyal to God.
Their disloyalty was in their laxity in religious observance, at least in the prophet’s mind. Especially troubling for him were the leaders who were flirting with neighboring pagan states and who allowed the paganism of these neighbors to influence policy.
The Epistle to the Philippians provides the second reading this weekend.
Philippi was an important military post in the Roman Empire, located in modern Greece. As such, it was a thoroughly pagan community. Because of their worship of the God of Israel, of Jesus as the Son of God, and because of their devotion to the Gospel values of love, sacrifice and life in God, pagans looked upon Christians with disdain, at best, as threats.
Before long, this disdain for Christians in the empire erupted into outright persecution.
Understandably this epistle had to encourage and reassure Philippi’s Christians. It admonished the Christians of Philippi always to be faithful to God, always to be holy, and indeed never to fear opposition or even persecution.
St. Matthew’s Gospel is the source of the third reading.
As has been the case on other weekends, the selection for this weekend is a parable. Again, the story is about a discussion between Jesus and priests and elders. Voicing the parable, Jesus refers to a “landowner,” who of course is God.
The landowner has planted a vineyard. (Remember the first reading? Vineyards often were used in the Old Testament to describe the nation of Israel.) The vineyard belongs to God. Those who occupy the vineyard merely are tenants. God protected this vineyard by surrounding it with a hedge, and then God went on a journey, leaving tenants to tend the vineyard.
In due course, the landowner sends his servants to the tenants to collect the yield. The servants find that tenants have turned against God. The tenants kill these servants. God sent more servants. They too were killed. Finally, the Son of God was sent also to be killed. Finally, God drives the tenants from the vineyard.
The Church has called us to discipleship during these weeks. It restates this call in these readings.
Ultimately, today’s lesson is not about doom and destruction, although both Isaiah and Matthew feature unhappiness and death. Rather, the message is of salvation and hope.
By disobeying, or ignoring, God, we bring chaos upon ourselves. God does not just hurl thunderbolts of anger and revenge at us. Instead, we create our own eternal situation. We choose to sin. We choose to be with God, or to be without God. Salvation is not forced upon us. We choose our plight of death and hopelessness.
All is not necessarily lost. The wonder, and great opportunity, in all this is that God accepts us back if we repent. God is merciful. By forgiving us, God returns us to the vineyard, there to find life and goodness forever.
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