Do we treasure the Lord’s vineyard?

Friends and readers: I am sure that you who occupy the pews of your parish church awaiting the Sunday sermon realize that there must be a standard process of putting such a column or homily together. My own practice is to first consult the current assigned Scriptures for a central theme and then try to discover something similar that may be going on in the world at the moment; link those two elements together and there you have it! It usually works!

Turning to the Scriptures for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, we find a theme that most of us are already quite well acquainted with. It is all about wine, vineyards and vineyard workers. We may not have a grape arbor growing in our backyard but we probably do know the taste of our favorite Merlot or Beaujolais.

The history of wine making is rich in spirituality, romance and fact. Agricultural scholars have recently discovered that wine and vineyard keeping was a common undertaking in Europe as early as Neolithic times. Humans have long treasured it as the beverage of choice, an economic and social resource and as an element in religious services. Of course, as we also read early on in the Book of Genesis, Noah, son of Adam and Eve, scandalized his family by overindulging in wine. An early Scriptural caution!

On the other hand, the Scriptures also describe wine as “that which brings joy to the heart.” Saint Paul suggests to his disciple Timothy that “a little wine is good for the stomach.” Jesus, as we well know, brought joy to the hearts of a wedding party when he provided an abundant supply of wine.

On the night before his passion, when Jesus gathered his disciples to celebrate his final Passover, he used bread and a cup of wine to celebrate the first Eucharist.

Another useful way to find a deeper meaning of a passage of Scripture is to explore what a vineyard can be compared to. Isaiah, the classic poet and prophet, beautifully describes how vineyards were prepared in his day: “Find a fertile hillside site, clear it of stones, plant the choicest vines, build a winepress and then wait patiently for the harvest!” Then the poet shocks his listeners: “The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts,” he says, “is the house of Israel; the people of Judah are his cherished plant. God looked for judgment and saw nothing but bloodshed for justice, nothing but turmoil!”

It is obvious that this metaphor is shock therapy; Isaiah is telling his own people that they, the vineyard of the Lord, are about to be thrashed; it has never produced the fruit God expected of it. We might compare Isaiah to a contemporary preacher admonishing his parishioners for their lack of concern for their parish.

Turning to the Gospel, we find Jesus using a similar metaphor. Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people. In this instance he uses a figure of speech comparing the spiritual leaders of Israel to dishonest hired hands, even killing the owner’s son (a symbol of Christ crucified). Finally, Jesus predicts that the promise to the chosen people of the Kingdom of God will be “taken away from them and given to a people who will yield a rich harvest.”

Using the model of Isaiah and Jesus, we might ask ourselves whether we truly treasure the vineyard that is the Catholic Church.

Oct. 8 Scriptures

Isaiah 5: 1-7

Philippians 4: 6-9

Matthew 21: 33-43

The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese. He now lives in Notre Dame, Ind.


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