27th Sunday in Ordinary
A Homily - Cycle A - 2004-2005
First Reading - Isaiah 5:1-7
Responsorial Psalm - 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Second Reading Philippians 4:6-9
Gospel - Matthew 21:33-43
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
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 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."
This morning's crisp air reminds us that we're less than 90 days from Christmas and that more than 3/4 of 2005 is history. As the years go by and we offer Mass day after day, we priests become very familiar with the liturgical calendar. For example, if someone tells me, "Father, my birthday is on September 21, " I would reply, "Ah, the Feast of St. Matthew." Or if they said, I was born on September 23, I would reply, "St. Pio's feast day." This past September 21, I was vesting for Mass and was trying to anticipate whose feast day fell on September 22. Glancing quickly at the calendar and looking at the portion of the calendar where one would normally find the saint's name, I saw "Autumn Begins." I wondered to myself, "Who is St. Autumn Begins?" "Is he or she the sibling of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings?" "Is he or she the cousin of Menachem Begin, the former Prime Minister of Israel?" Thankfully, I figured it out later, before I went out to preach on this alleged saint! It was a good reminder that when you think you're pretty smart, God serves you some humble pie.
Today's Gospel uses an image that was very familiar to the Jews of Christ's day - the image of the vineyard. Our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the Responsorial Psalm compare Israel, the Chosen People of God, to a vineyard. When Israel only produces wild fruit, instead of choice grapes, God prunes and purifies the vineyard so that it produces plentiful fruit. The parable we hear today encapsulates all of salvation history. The vineyard represents Israel; God is the owner; the wicked cultivators are the Jewish religious leaders who had charge of Israel but reject those sent to collect the produce; the servants sent to collect the produce; the Son is Christ. Of course, the Jews don't identify Jesus as God's Son, even though Jesus is trying to make this quite clear to them.
Having explained the metaphors in the parable, I could end this homily right here. And yet, there is much more that we can cull from this image of the vineyard. Like the Jews, we have been given the gift of the Faith. We are the new Chosen People - incorporated into Christ's mystical body and nourished through the seven sacraments. The sacraments are invitations into God's very inner life. They touch us at the different stages of our loves, from infancy to death and everything in between. And yet, even though we have all the means necessary to cooperate with God to get ourselves to heaven, we remain radically free to reject the gifts. We can step beyond our lowly status as cultivators in the garden and forget who the owner of our lives is. Like the cultivators who mistreat and even kill, we too can usurp God the Father's sovereignty over our lives by putting ourselves to the center of the vineyard, instead of respecting the tower that He has set up. The tower in the vineyard was meant to serve as a place to keep provisions and to seek shelter and to warn of possible intruders into the vineyard. It was a constant reminder of the owner's dominion over the vineyard.
And so, we can easily forfeit all that is given to us so freely. We hear this in a number of contemporary attitudes. For example, there are some who say, "I'm a good person even if I don't come to Mass on Sunday or even if I don't follow ALL of the teachings of the Church." And, there are those who claim, "I have a relationship with Jesus that runs independently of my standing in the Church. Jesus and I have a special deal worked out on the side, so that I don't feel obligated to follow ALL that the Church teaches." This is especially true in matters pertaining to contraception, or how to form one's conscience properly when voting for public officials.
Many persons in the Church suggest that they need not listen to the Church - only to Jesus speaking to them. This suggests that Christ the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride have experienced a cosmic divorce. When Christ speaks, He speaks THROUGH the Church. When the Church speaks, we believe that Christ is speaking. To disregard Church teaching and yet claim faith in Christ in untenable. Persons who maintain this attitude see the Church's teaching as somehow divorced from the mind of Christ. Thus the Church's teachings get in the way of unfettered freedom to do what the individual wants. The teachings are seen as restrictions on autonomy. So, what Isaiah prophesied would happen to the Jews when they did not produce good fruit can surely happen to us, if we refuse to cultivate good fruit and honor the Father's sovereignty over our lives. When couples who persist in contraception shut God out of their marriage, they are like the wicked cultivators who do not honor His dominion over their lives. When grandparents discourage their children from producing more grandchildren because caring for the grandchildren is ruining their retirement, they too, are like the cultivators.
So, how do we cultivate good fruit? We pray. We pray the Rosary as a family. We make a monthly confession and a nightly examination of conscience. We educate ourselves in Natural Family Planning if we have grave physical, social, economic or psychology reasons to postpone pregnancies. We study the Faith and spend more time reading the Catechism instead of trash like the DaVinci Code or Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. I can't tell you how many "Catholics" have read those horrible fictions and yet can't explain their own Catholic faith. Is this the type of reading that helps one grow in their Faith? Is this the type of reading material that draws one closer to Christ and the Church He founded? What kind of produce will these persons show for their lives when the owner of the vineyard demands it?
In this month of Mary, the month of October, may she instruct us in the ways of knowing our place as cultivators, not owners of the vineyard. May her example inspire us to cultivate good fruit, not for ourselves, but for the great landowner - our Father in heaven!
Praised by Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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