October 4, 2020
by George Butterfield
Creighton University's School of Law - Retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 139

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43
Praying Ordinary Time

The imagery of the people of God as a vineyard is common in both the Old and New Testaments. Generally the vineyard stands for the nation of Israel as a whole but that does not exclude an emphasis on the role of the individual.

The vineyard parables all have certain things in common. God is the one who plants the vineyard. He chooses the best and most fertile land, works the land to prepare it, and then looks for a harvest, only to be disappointed for one reason or another.

In the first reading, he is disappointed because, instead of the vineyard producing good grapes, it produced wild, or, as some translations say, rotten grapes. So, what do you do? There is nothing left to do but tear it all down. Isaiah’s message to the nation is that this is what God plans to do with Israel because the nation has produced rotten grapes. In the same way that the owner of the vineyard looked for good grapes and found rotten grapes instead, God looked for justice within Israel and instead found bloodshed. Nations that are systemically unjust can last for a time but eventually God gets fed up and destruction comes.

The psalmist does not know why it is happening but he sees that God is allowing his vineyard to be torn down. With all the work God had done, bringing a vine from Egypt, working hard to clear the land to plant it, and then letting it spread itself to the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates River, why is God now allowing it to be plundered and trampled on by everybody who passes by? The psalmist pleads with God to look favorably on his vineyard and give it new life. The people have withdrawn from you and haven’t called upon your name but, if you will restore your vineyard, the nation can turn around and be saved.

In the Gospel parable, the history of Israel as God’s vineyard is told. The owner of an estate leases it out to tenant farmers and then goes on a long journey. This was particularly common in Galilee where landowners often actually lived outside of the territory. Generally the rent was for a certain amount of produce from the vineyard with the tenants able to keep what remained. The owner of the vineyard then sent delegates to take the part of the harvest that was his. However, the tenants choose not to pay and abuse the servants. The servants in the parable are God’s prophets whom he regularly sent to Israel, only to see them abused and killed. Finally, the owner sends his son but he, too, is killed. Those who hate Jesus know that he is talking about them and himself. You can reject God’s Son but he will take the vineyard and give it to someone else who will produce good fruit.

Finally, what is that good fruit that God wants from his vineyard? Saint Paul tells us.

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.

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