Working in the Vineyard
User's Guide to Sunday
BY Tom and April Hoopes
September 25-October 8, 2011 Issue | Posted 9/16/11 at 5:11 PM
Sunday, Oct. 2, is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
This week the Church celebrates two powerful feast days.
Tuesday, Oct. 4, is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. This is a great day to introduce your children to a man who is called “the most Christ-like person since Christ.” A good movie for children is CCC’s St. Francis: The Knight of Assisi (available via Amazon and from Catholic sellers).
Friday, Oct. 7, is the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. This summer, we discovered a CD series that helped deepen our whole family’s understanding and appreciation of the Rosary: The Rosary CD and coloring-book set from HolyHeroes.com is the best audio family resource we have found on the Rosary.
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9, 12-16, 19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43
Today’s readings offer a lot of rich symbolism that is rooted very deeply in Hebrew thought and culture — and sets a high mark for Catholic culture.
The first reading begins: “Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard.” This harkens back to a time long before Internet, television or radio, when people would share songs with each other at festivals. This was probably a song sung at a harvest festival, but it has a surprise ending: What starts as a story about a vine grower switches halfway through to a song sung from God’s point of view.
We hear in the first half of how the vine grower built his vineyard and “spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it, he built a watchtower and hewed out a wine press.” In other words, he prepared the soil, chose the plants, provided protection and readied for the harvest.
We hear in the second half how he will now undo each of those things: He will withdraw care and protection and preclude the possibility of harvest. Furthermore, he will punish the harvest in ways that only God is capable of: “I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it.”
The reading ends with dark Jewish humor. The first reading says God looked for “judgment” but got “bloodshed” — and “justice” but got “outcry.” The original text used telling puns: God looked for “mish·pat” and got “mis-pach.” He looked for “litz-da-kah” and got “tze-a-kah.” He looked for “order and harmony with God’s will” and got aggressive disturbance according to man’s will. The words look alike, and the actions look similar — but, in both cases, they are utterly different when you look at their meanings.
God is truth, beauty and goodness. He is also the creator of all things and all people. In order to be in harmony with God, his people need to live according to the truth, beauty and goodness of creation and its Creator. When they live according to their own lights and purposes, they thwart the whole purpose of creation.
The Gospel is a counterweight to the reading from Isaiah. It represents a step forward in God’s revelation. In the first reading he wanted to make sure that his people knew he was the harmony and order of their world. Now he wants them to know that he is all that and something more — namely love.
The creator God is now becoming the vine grower. He is entering the vineyard himself. He is not just building a watchtower; he is himself keeping the watch.
So the stakes are higher. Now, if the house of Israel rejects God’s plan, it will mean expelling God himself from the vineyard.
If they do this, God will create a new people: His Church will include the Gentiles.
Our task is clear: We need to take care of the vineyard now. If we do, we will enjoy a rich and rewarding friendship with God. If we don’t, our life will be hard.
Paul is reassuring about the work of the vineyard when real faith in God is present. “Have no anxiety at all,” he says. Faith gains you “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
Compare his advice to the first reading. Writes Paul, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious — if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
In other words, let “mis-pach” give way to “mish·pat”; let “tze-a-kah” give way to “litz-da-kah.” Put God’s will in the place of chaos and aggression. For, he says, “Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.
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