October 6, 2017 // The Sunday Gospel
What will we, the Lord’s vineyard, choose to yield?
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first section of the Book of Isaiah is the source of this weekend’s first reading. In this reading, the prophet speaks directly to the people. He speaks as God, in the first person.
The prophet employs an image with which his contemporaries would have been very familiar: the image of the vineyard, describing the land of God’s people as a vineyard.
The people do not own the vineyard. It belongs to God. Lavish in generosity and care, God fills the vineyard with the choicest vines, and God tends the vineyard.
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. Why the concern? What was happening?
The people were polluting God’s vineyard. They themselves became wild grapes, sour and bitter, unworthy of being in the beautiful vineyard. The problem was that they were being disloyal to God by being disobedient to God’s law and lax in religious observance. Especially troubling the prophet were the leaders of the chosen people who were flirting with neighboring pagan states, allowing 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. It was a thoroughly pagan community, probably with a scattering of Christians. Pagans looked upon Christians with disdain, at best, with threats, at most, because of the Christians’ 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 with God.
Before long, this disdain for Christians in the empire erupted into outright persecution.
Understandably, this epistle sought to encourage and reassure Philippi’s Christians, admonishing them always to be faithful to God, to always 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 the priests and elders. Voicing the parable, Jesus refers to the landowner of a vineyard, who of course is God.
(Remember the first reading? Vineyards often were used in the Old Testament to describe the nation of Israel.)
The landowner, or God, planted a vineyard. It belongs to God. The people occupying the vineyard merely are tenants. God protected this vineyard by surrounding it with a hedge, and then he 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, but the tenants turned against God. The tenants kill these servants. God sent more servants, and 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. We create our own eternal situation, and often our tranquility on earth, by our reaction to temptation.
We may choose to sin, or we may choose to be with God. The choice belongs to us.
God does not hurl thunderbolts of anger and revenge at us. Rather, God accepts us back if we repent. By forgiving us, God returns us to the vineyard, there to find life and goodness forever.
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