Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 8th, 2017

Deacon Blaine Barclay

The first reading, the psalm, and the gospel today all speak of ‘the Vineyard of the Lord’.  It was quite common for the Hebrew scriptures and for the Rabbis to speak of the people of Israel, God’s covenant people, as a Vineyard, as our psalms says, “The Vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” In Jewish thinking the Torah itself, the written law of Moses, is also referred to as a Vineyard, and the oral law or commentary of the Rabbis was seen as a protective interpretive hedge around the law, guarding it from possible misinterpretations. As an aside, this is not unlike the way Catholics think of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. Likewise, those who are cultivated by the law, by the word of God, are also God’s Vineyard.

Jesus himself teaches us in the gospel of John, “I am the Vine and you are the branches. Think for a moment on all that is involved in the cultivation and upkeep of a vineyard; all the things that have to be done in order to yield a fruitful crop. ’Fruit of the vine, work of human hands’; planting, grafting, fertilizing, pruning, watering, protecting with a hedge or wall, nets to keep the birds away.  All of the many ways that the word of God cultivates us, tends and tills us, so that we will yield much fruit.

In the first reading, because the vineyard of Israel has borne bitter wild grapes, rather than the choice fruit of those who have been cultivated by the discipline of the law, the Word of God; the Vineyards protective hedge, it is defending wall, are removed and broken down.  No longer cultivated by the medicinal discipline of the Word of God, in the words of our text today, ‘bearing neither the fruit of justice nor of righteousness’, the vineyard is trample down, laid waste, deprived of the living water that it needs for its proper growth.

In Jesus’ parable of the Vineyard everything has been given by the Landowner, its ‘pleasant planting’, its wine press, protective hedge, even a watchtower to guard it from thieves and predators.  Everything it needs to bear much fruit, fruit that will last.  But those who have been given the care of the vineyard, the tenants, have come to think of it as their own, as if the vineyard was something at their own disposal, to do with what they will.

Likewise, ’the vineyard of the Lord’, the Church, the Vine itself, the grace that flows into all its branches, is not something at our disposal, that we can appropriate to ourselves as if it was our own private possession.  Unlike the tenants in our story, when God sends us prophets let us not reject their word of warning, or the warning of this parable of Jesus, spoken by the very Son who the tenants reject and kill. ’’The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom’.  Why do we always think that scriptural warnings such as this one are addressed to someone other than ourselves?  Should we not ask ourselves, are we, am I, producing the fruits of the kingdom in my life?  Or, like the people of God in our first reading, am I only producing wild bitter grapes, injustice, bloodshed, unrighteousness? Do my actions reflect the faith I proclaim? And what are the ’fruits of the kingdom’ that Jesus is talking about?

The second reading from today gives us a clue about these fruits. ’’Whatever it is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, any excellence, anything worthy of praise.’’.  St. Paul urges us ’to think about these things’ and to follow his example.  He says, ’’keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me’’.  Following the example of the Apostle Paul, and other Saints and heroic practitioners of the faith, let us not hold back from the practice of the virtues, from the pursuit of every excellence.  Not just by our own efforts, as if this was simply ours to do under our own power.  But let us ask the Lord of the Vineyard to plough, to prune, to tend and till the ground of our hearts, so as to produce in us the Fruits of the Kingdom; fruits like patience, kindness, fortitude, prudence, justice, peace, gentleness, strength of character, self-control, and of course the greatest of all the gifts, the juiciest of all the fruits of the Kingdom, Charity, for ’’God is Love’’.