Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 4:6-9, Matthew 21:31-43.
The Liturgy is the Fertile Ground, and We are the Harvest
The mercy of God is ever on display by the methods and means through which He moves to teach us. Our Lord God constantly interacts with us as if we were children in that He does not take things foreign to our experience to teach us. Rather, He uses things familiar to us, like bread, wine, and water. After all, He desires to relate to us in ways that are personable and accessible to all because He desires to have a personal and accessible relationship with us all. Of course, the culmination of His efforts to communicate with us in a way by which we could comprehend and access was Him being born of woman, being fed and protected as an infant, studying our ways as a child, and then dwelling and eating and walking with us as He taught, fed, and healed us; only so that we might fail to see His value and kill Him just like He were one of us.
We hear two stories about a vineyard in today’s First and Gospel Reading at Mass for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. For many in ancient Palestine, vineyards, making wine, and drinking wine were part of everyday life. For Jews, these things were common and very accessible. Grapes were a major agricultural product used for eating and making wine. Wine in the sacred Scriptures symbolizes life, vitality, joy, blessings, and prosperity. In the New Covenant, it becomes the cloak of the Real Blood of Jesus, through which He promises eternal life to those who drink it. The sacred Scriptures also use the imagery of a vineyard as a pedagogical method to teach about God’s promises and threats. For instance, in Isaiah 65:20-22, the promise of a long life is illustrated by the image of people living long enough to enjoy the fruit of their vineyards.
As vineyards and wine enjoy this place of prominence in culture and the sacred Scriptures, we are not surprised, having already heard the parable during the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time about the vineyard owner, to here again having the grace-filled opportunity to hear a parable about another vineyard owner in Matthew 21:31-43 that appears to be closely based upon the vineyard song-parable from our First Reading from Isaiah 5:1-7, where God portrayed as a vineyard owner and Israel as the vineyard, is happy to narrate how pleased he was to find fertile soil on a hillside, which he cleared of all stones and spaded it and planted the best of vines. He also built a watchtower and hewed out a winepress. Succinctly, the owner did everything necessary for the vineyard to thrive, and there was a reasonable expectation that it would yield good grapes. Nevertheless, verse two concludes by saying, “Then he waited for the crop of grapes, but it yielded rotten grapes.”
Then, in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus takes the parable in a different direction. Rather than ending with a vineyard ruined by rotten grapes, He says this about the vineyard owner, “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. However, the tenants seized the servants, and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.” The vineyard owner then sent a larger group of servants to obtain the produce. However, they too were killed, and finally, the vineyard owner sent his son, thinking that they would respect him, but the text says, “They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” Jesus ends this parable with a question, which in the Gospel of Mark (12:9) He answers Himself, but here in Matthew, He asks the chief priests and scribes who were there questioning His authority, “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.”
If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that the difference in these two parables was not just that they ended differently but that these were two different vineyards but with the same vineyard owner. The owner’s first vineyard was expected to have value because of how it was prepared and the choice vines that were planted in it, but it became worthless. This contrasts with the owner’s second vineyard, which was so valuable that several men lost their lives trying to recover its produced fruit. This second vineyard was the one that God had desired His house of Israel and the people of Judah to become in the First Covenant or first vineyard. However, in this parable are now tenants of this new vineyard and are trying to kill the Son of God, who has come for His Father’s Harvest.
How divinely marvelous does the liturgy of the Catholic Mass unfold these parables into her presentation of the mysteries of Christ? The wine, which is the fruit of Christ’s labors, becomes the fruit of eternal life; His Blood we consume and lives in us as Him with the Holy Spirit. We are also the branches of His vine, which He has placed a hedge around, built a watchtower and dug a wine press. Without delving into what these things might individually symbolize, we can simply say that God is protecting, watching over us, and preparing us for the Harvest. The only thing we need to do is continue to grow in the vine by returning to the liturgy, which is a type of fertile field, as often as we can to be fed and pruned with and by the Word of God, who is both the source of our life and our eternal destination.
With this certainty of God being on our side, we rejoice in the words of our Second Reading, where the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians in 4:6-9, “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.”
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.