October 8, 2017 — Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
The prophet Isaiah proclaims in the first verse of our First Reading, “Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard.” Isaiah’s writings were beautiful and poetic, and we are familiar with his many prophecies relating to the Messiah and to Christ. The theme of a vineyard was a favorite of his and in fact is often used throughout Holy Scripture. A number of Christ’s parables involve vineyards.
Vines and vineyards were common in the agricultural economy of Israel and of Jesus’ world. Vines grew readily and wine was historically part of a family meal. Thus, vineyards were an important point of reference to those of that time. Many of the references, as in this instance, are metaphorical. Isaiah states outright that the vineyard for him was Israel. In today’s reading he says, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant.” Christ takes that reference to another level as to Him the vineyard is more than just Israel; it is all of us.
Most of us are aware of Christ’s statement, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” There is even a strong stewardship reference made in relation to vineyards. In the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy God tells us, “When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless, and the widow.” We need to understand the significance of this relationship to vineyards.
St. Paul, in our Second Reading from his letter to the Philippians, speaks of our relationship to God. Keep in mind that Paul went to Philippi as part of his second missionary journey. It is well documented in the Book of Acts. He may have visited again on his journey from Ephesus to Macedonia. Communications from the Philippians to Paul and his letters back are also acknowledged. This letter, which was most likely written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, is one that does not have any particular logical plan. It is filled with love and gratitude, feelings to which he makes reference in today’s reading.
The overall theme of the letter is one of thanks and gratitude, and in today’s reading in particular Paul advises us that we need to take this gratitude and offer it to God. Paul speaks of the peace that comes to us from God. In urging us to pray, Paul says, “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul does not mean that God’s peace is impossible for us to understand, but he feels it is something that we need to experience in order to appreciate it completely, and that can only be accomplished through prayer. Prayer is, of course, one of our Four Pillars of Stewardship, and a regular and consistent prayer life is important to us both as individuals and as a community.
As referenced previously in this reflection, Jesus was fond of using a vineyard as a setting, especially for His parables. Today’s parable, popularly called The Parable of the Wicked Servants, has the same connection to Israel as that indicated by Isaiah in our First Reading. Our Lord is speaking of judgment, judgment for our actions, for what we do and what we fail to do. Jesus is speaking to leaders, and He is making it clear to them that God expects fruit from their leadership, but is finding little.
Jesus also warns them (and us) the consequences of rejecting Him. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” We will be judged, and we will be judged if we reject the Lord. Jesus is not on trial. We are, each and every day and in every way. If we focus on the Lord, and if we live God-centered lives, our chances of redemption are much greater. The idea that we must be “broken” is difficult to endure, but either we humbly accept the Lord as our guide and master, or we might be “broken” in judgment. The choice is ours.