A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
Vineyards were important in the ancient world because grapes were sweet to eat and wine was a favorite drink. Isaiah tells a story about a man who took very good care of his vineyard only to find that it did not bear sweet fruit but only wild, useless grapes. So, the owner destroyed the vineyard.
Isaiah then tells the people, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgement, but see, bloodshed; for justice, but hark, the outcry!” The outcry is from the people who are oppressed, and God’s judgement is upon them.
(Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20)
“The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” But our Psalm ends with a plea: “O Lord of hosts, restore us; if your face shines upon us, then we shall be saved.” What a beautiful image! Have you ever thought that the face of God shines upon you? No? You are not worthy? No! The all-powerful love of God can overcome any faults we may have.
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
“Brothers and sisters: 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 which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is telling the Philippians to “have no anxiety at all.” Of course, they had much to be anxious about. Their neighbors could turn them in to the Roman authorities, and they might have been tortured and or killed. That did happen to thousands of Christians, but many more were spared. Paul assures them that, amid all this danger, they will have “the peace of God … in Christ Jesus.”
Until this year, it was hard to relate the terrifying experience of the first Christians to our lives today. Not now, thanks to the COVID 19 virus. Paul tells us today, “The God of peace will be with you.” In our crazy world, is the “God of peace” with you? Where have you found some peace in your life, some joy amidst sadness, deep inner love amidst division and the violence of words if not actions? The peace of God is always there. We have only to ask and believe.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
This long parable is the story of a landowner who planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants to harvest it and then share the produce. He sent his servants twice “to obtain his harvest,” but the tenants killed them. “Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’” But they killed the son too. “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.”
Jesus is saying this to “the chief priests and elders.” They and their predecessors have persecuted the prophets and they will kill Jesus, just as the tenants in the parable killed the landowner’s son. The kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to his disciples and their followers. We do not use the word “kingdom” very much today, but that is where we live and where we are headed.
Image:”The Wicked Tenants” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.