Sunday Lectionary: Grapes of wrath

Sorry it’s a bit late this week – I had two big posts that I wanted to write at the weekend and I kinda ran out of time… :-/

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: October 2nd, 2011

Last week we heard Jesus’ parable of the two sons and the vineyard. The Readings this week also focus around the image of the vineyard…

The bold refrain of the psalm this week is “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel”. In our First Reading this image of the vineyard is used to describe how God gave Israel every possible blessing, yet all these graces were scorned. For this, Israel will have to pay the price. Yet, in our Gospel we hear how, through the rejection of Christ, the Gentiles come to have a share in God’s Kingdom.

For this week’s Readings I would suggest reading the Psalm first since it clearly establishes the metaphor of the vineyard and explains Israel’s exodus in those terms. I would then move on to the First Reading to hear how this metaphor is also used to describe God’s coming judgement. Next, I would read the Gospel as it shows how Jesus uses this familiar image to predicts His own death. I would optionally conclude with the Second Reading.

Reading I: Isaiah 5:1-7

In this First Reading, Isaiah tells us joyfully about the Lord, his “friend” who has bestowed on Israel every blessing imaginable. He uses the image of a vineyard to describe the great care the Lord has lavished on His people. However, the vineyard of Israel has failed to produce fruit…

Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard. 

My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes.

Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard: What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?

Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds
not to send rain upon it.

The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry! 

Questions:

  • Who is speaking in this passage? Isaiah or the Lord?
  • Who is the “friend”?
  • What is the “vineyard”?
  • What is the significance of the friend’s gardening efforts?
  • What is the problem? What is this “fruit” in real terms?
  • As a punishment, what is said will happen? What does this vineyard destruction mean in real terms? Is God within His rights to do this?
  • What are the different “senses” of this passage? Literal? Moral? Allegorical?
  • What is the lesson for us today?

Commentary:

“Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard”

Isaiah is speaking here. His “friend” is the Lord. The vineyard, as is explained at the end of the passage, is “the house of Israel”.

Why does Isaiah say that he’s going to “sing”? My guess is that this is because he is about to describe something wonderful, the way the Lord has doted on Israel and has gaven her everything she could possibly need.

“…fertile…”

This land should have brought forth much fruit…

“…hillside…”

Possibly referring to Jerusalem?

“…he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press”

God is generous. He did every possible thing to encourage the vineyard in bringing forth fruit…

“…built a watchtower…”

Vineyards had watchtowers for guarding the vineyards and for shelter. Here it may also allude to the Temple.

“Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes”

The fruit was not up to scratch… At the end of the passage we read what the Lord expected: holy lives filled with “[good] judgment…[and]…justice”

“Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard: What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?”

The Lord lays down the challenge – who was at fault here? Was it the Lord? Had He been lacking in any way?….or was it Israel’s fault? The answer to this rhetorical question is, of course, that is was Israel’s fault and not God’s.

“Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard…”

Israel must suffer the consequences of not bearing fruit…

“…take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall…”

Israel’s protection will be taken away

“…it shall not be pruned or hoed…I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it”

God’s hand of care shall be withdrawn. Witholding rain was seen as a curse on the land.

“…but overgrown with thorns and briers”

Israel shall be overwhelmed by foreign invaders.

“The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry! “

Isaiah gives us the interpretation of the preceding verses.

Using similarly sounding words, there is some wordplay in the Hebrew: he looked for [mishpat], but see, [mispah]! for [sedaqah], but hark, the [se’aqah]!”

 

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20

This week’s psalm is deeply connected with the First Reading and the Gospel.

R. (Is 5:7a) The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.

A vine from Egypt you transplanted;
you drove away the nations and planted it.
It put forth its foliage to the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River.

Why have you broken down its walls,
so that every passer-by plucks its fruit,
The boar from the forest lays it waste,
and the beasts of the field feed upon it?

Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.

Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
O LORD, God of hosts, restore us;
if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.

Questions:

  • How is this psalm linked to the other Readings?
  • What event do you think might be being alluded to when the psalmist says “A vine from Egypt you transplanted…”?
  • What is the problem here? What does the psalmist ask? What does the psalmist promise?

Commentary:

“A vine from Egypt you transplanted; you drove away the nations and planted it.

This is describing the Exodus and the conquest of the Promised Land.

It put forth its foliage to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River.”

This is the extent of Israel’s dominion. The point is that the vine has been established.

Why have you broken down its walls, so that every passer-by plucks its fruit, The boar from the forest lays it waste, and the beasts of the field feed upon it?”

This is an appeal to the Lord. It appears that the Lord’s protection (the vineyard’s walls) no longer encompass Israel, meaning that the surrounding nations can just come and take what they want. The psalmist cries out: why has the Lord removed His hand of protection?

Once again, O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted the son of man whom you yourself made strong.”

The psalmist asks for the Lord to come to their aid and take care of them again, reminding the Lord that it is He who planted them in the first place!

“…your right hand has planted the son of man whom you yourself made strong….”

There are a couple of possible interpretations of this verse. This “son of man” could be the Davidic King whom God had anointed, but it could also be Jacob/Israel and his descendants.

“Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name. O LORD, God of hosts, restore us; if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved”

For protection, the psalmist promises Israel’s fidelity; in exchange for life, worship.

 

Reading II: Philipians 4:6-9

We continue working through Philippians in this week’s Second Reading. This is Paul at his most pastoral. This is all solid advice to help cultivate the joy of which Paul speaks so often in this letter. The Philippians are not to be anxious, instead they should be driven to prayer and rest in the peace of God.

Do you know how to meditate? If you know how to worry, then you know how to meditate. When you worry, you turn over unpleasant thoughts in your mind again and again. Meditation is like worrying, except that, rather than ruminating on thoughts that lead to anxiety and despair, you focus your mind on that which brings forth joy. This is what Paul exhorts the Philippians to do, to ponder “whatever is true…honorable…just… pure…”

Brothers and sisters:

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Questions:

  • What does Paul tell the Philippians to do instead of worrying? What will be a consequence of this?
  • Paul gives two other main pieces of advice – what are they?
  • How can we apply these pieces of advice to our lives?

Commentary:

“Have no anxiety at all…”

Paul tells the Philippians to avoid worry…

“…but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God”

…but instead they should pray for everything with thanksgiving.

“Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

The image here is of a sentry guarding a doorway. This “peace” is a deep inner tranquility that comes from trusting God.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…” 

This is sure-fire method of increasing the joy quotient in your life. What you put in your mind finds its ways into your actions:

“You are made in the image of what you desire” – Thomas Merton

“…Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me”

Think good things…do good things…

 

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus uses the Old Testament image of a vineyard in a parable to foretell His rejection, His Passion and death. From their own lips, the chief priests and the elders speak of how the Gentiles will be included in God’s plan of salvation and come to have a share in the vineyard of the Lord.

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. 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.

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.

What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”

They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?

Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Questions:

  • To whom is Jesus speaking this parable?
  • As in our First Reading, the description of the vineyard is given in great detail. What is this meant to show?
  • What is the allegorical reading of this passage? Who is the “landowner”? Who are the “tenants” ? Who are the landowner’s “servants”? Who is the “son”? What events are predicted in this passage? Who are the “other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times”?
  • What is Jesus’ purpose in quoting Scripture here?
  • What does this passage tell us about the Kingdom of God?

Commentary:

“Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “

It is important to remember in this passage that Jesus is addressing the leaders of Israel.

“There was a landowner…”

The Father…

“…who planted a vineyard”

The Kingdom of God…

“…put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower”

As in the First Reading, this isn’t just a vineyard, it’s is specially prepared, five-star vineyard!

“Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey”

Here the Father gives to Israel His great blessings.

“When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.”

The tenants knew that they were meant to produce fruit and the time has come for collection…

“But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.”

The prophets who came in God’s name and lamented the inequity of Israel were severely mistreated by God’s people.

“Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way”

…and this happened again and again…

Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ 

It is important to note here that, when the Father sent the Son to earth, He knew what was going to happen. This was not a surprise to either of them.

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.

The tenants decide that they don’t want to be beholden to anyone and that they want to take possession of the vineyard for themselves.

They kill the son. Jesus will shortly be killed by the “chief priests and elders” outside the walls of Jerusalem. Rather than wine coming from the vineyard, it is the Son’s blood which flows instead.

“What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”

What could be the punishment for such disobedience? Israel’s leaders have learnt nothing from Isaiah or their nation’s own history.

They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death…”

Ultimately all are held accountable to God for their actions.

In AD 70 Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, shortly after the Christians fled.

“…and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

The original tenants were not grateful and they failed to produce fruit. From their own lips the chief priests and the elders are speaking of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God. The proviso remains though – fruit must be produced:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” – John 15:1-2

The vineyard of my life must produce fruit.

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?

This is from Psalm 118:22. This was the prophecy of the Messiah’s rejection by his own people, but his eventual triumph. I find this a wonderfully hopeful passage – it says that God can use people which the world rejects for great things.

“Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

The believing Jews and the Gentiles (by the second century the Church was predominantly Gentile).

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