27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first section of the Book of Isaiah provides this weekend’s liturgy with its first reading. The Book of Isaiah is outstanding in its eloquence. It is one of the most splendid works of literature in the Scriptures.
The author of this section of Isaiah was very disappointed with his people. At the time, the people were lax in their religious observance, at least in the prophet’s mind, and certainly their leaders were flirting with neighboring pagan states and allowing the paganism of these neighbors to influence policy.
He saw these patterns as creating a path that inevitably would lead to the nation’s destruction. Very devoted to God, the author intensely believed that God’s people would create their own doom if they were not loyal to God.
This weekend’s reading is typical of this book’s superb writing. The prophet describes the land of God’s people as a vineyard, belonging to God, tended by God. Lavish in generosity and care, God fills the vineyard with the choicest vines.
However, wild grapes appear. Using this example, the prophet then speaks directly to the people. He speaks as God, in the first person. What more can God do? His love is seen everywhere. Yet, the people sinned. They are the wild grapes. They sinned at their own peril.
For the second reading this weekend, the Church presents the Epistle to the Philippians.
Philippi was an important military post in the Roman Empire, located in modern Greece, a thoroughly pagan community. Christians were outside the mainstream, to say the least.
To encourage and reassure Philippian Christians, this epistle urges uncompromising faithfulness to God.
St. Matthew’s Gospel is the source of the third reading.
As has been the case on other recent weekends, the selection for this weekend is a parable. Also, once again, the setting is a discussion between Jesus and priests and elders.
Jesus refers to a “landowner,” who of course is God. This landowner has planted a vineyard. Vineyards often were used in the Old Testament to describe the nation of Israel, as in the case of the reading this week from Isaiah.
The owner protected the vineyard by surrounding it with a hedge. He allowed tenants to use the vineyard, although he retained ownership, and then he went on a journey, leaving tenants to tend the vineyard.
The message is clear. First, the vineyard belongs to God. Those who occupy the vineyard merely are tenants.
Second, the tenants are unworthy of the owner’s trust. They defy all the accepted rules of responsibility and propriety. So, in due course, the landowner sends his servants to the tenants to collect the yield. The tenants kill these servants.
The owner sends more servants. They too are killed. Finally, he sends his son, who himself is killed. The final result is that the owner drives the tenants from the vineyard, not in an unjust rage, however. The tenants brought their plight upon themselves.
The Church restates once more its call to discipleship. To furnish detail and to give guidance, this weekend’s lesson is not in the end about doom and destruction. While it makes clear that salvation is not forced upon us, it also insists that God gives every opportunity, and aid, to us to enable us in seeking our salvation.
Still, the choice belongs to us individually. We must place ourselves within God’s plan. We must obey God. We must live as God has taught us. Only in such obedience will we find salvation.
First Isaiah and Matthew are very instructive. By disobeying, or ignoring, God, we bring chaos upon ourselves. God does not hurl thunderbolts of anger and revenge at us. Instead, we create our own eternal situation. We are with God, or we are not. We decide.
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