We relate with a God Who is almighty, powerful, everywhere and all-knowing. We are literally faced with how we feel and deal with our image of the un-imageable. We can experience ourselves as a nothingness, tiny beyond words. We ask the question about why would God create us to feel terrible about ourselves and others.
As we face our lives these days of living the Eucharist, we can pray with our image of God and how that image forms the personal image we have of ourselves and others. We pray with our dustness and our immortal preciousness. We pray for a sense of vista which forms our relationship with this also infinitely loving and up-raising God. We can pray with how other persons and other realities can make us feel about ourselves. Those which diminish us cannot be from our relationship with God, but they are certainly tempting.
At this time of harvest and especially of the grapes for making wine, Isaiah attempts to get the attention of his people and their growing unjust practices toward God and each other. The prophet sings of his friend, (the God of Israel’s history), and the “hillside” of Mount Sion. His friend expected great fruitfulness from this vineyard, considering all that the friend had done to plant and protect the vineyard.
What the friend received was nothing but sour grapes. Then the prophet announces to Jerusalem and the leaders of the nation that the whole loving deal is off. The walls are crumbling; the vineyard will be given over to drought and destruction. Their image of themselves had grown larger than a vineyard and the image of the owner had become irrelevant. The Owner had asked for fruitful lives and acting justly toward the owner and the other inhabitants. Harvest time was about to turn into misery.
In our gospel for today we hear a continuation of parables, which in this case is really an allegory in which every element of the story is rather easily accounted for, there are no dangling threads left to ambiguous interpretations.
While it is easy to see what Jesus is telling His listeners, imagine how revolutionary this image is. The people of Israel knew the image of themselves as a vineyard. They were familiar with the prophets. Here stands Jesus again predicting that the Owner had sent His Son and the tenants were to kill the Son and dominate the vineyard as their own. Jesus asks the religious leaders, (the “tenants”) what will the Owner do? His hearers answer prophetically that the vineyard will be handed over to others who will bring forth fruit in proper time.
The Owner had sent “servants” (prophets) and they were beaten and killed. The Owner sent His Son and they took Him outside the vineyard, (Jerusalem) and killed Him. Now the Owner was not giving up on the preciousness of the vineyard, but rather protecting it. What was rejected will endure. The foundation-stone is the long-lasting love of God and that love will bring about the wine of life from the fruit of faith in that same ever-lasting love.
There may be a temptation, and in fact there has been in our Christian history, to interpret this passage as indicating that Christianity is superior to and supercedes Judaism. This is a dangerous and incorrect reading and understanding of who Jesus was and is. A very important truth here is that God’s love for and covenant with the Jewish people has not been taken away or replaced by God’s love for those following Jesus. This is the teaching of our Church. Matthew presents Jesus as sent to the people of Israel, the Jews, to call them back to their original experiences of God’s saving love and formation of them as God’s chosen people. The people of Israel and the people of Christianity are reminded of just who they are in God’s eyes and how they are to respond. The response then and the responses now indicate a similar human resistance to our proper human image. We are the vine, the vineyard planted or created for a just relationship with that Planter.
“The vineyard of the Lord is the House of Israel.” Ps. 8, 9
PARIS - Sept. 12, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI
(A portion of a translation of Benedict XVI's address at the Apostolic Nunciature in Paris, during a meeting with representatives of the Jewish community.)
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