Twenty-seventh Sunday A
Is 5:1-7; Ps 80:9,12-16,20; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43
(Scriptures cited after the Homily.)
When I was a kid, there was only one reason my mom and dad could drag me to the dentist or the doctor’s office without a fuss. Within their waiting rooms, they always had a magazine called Highlights®. And somewhere within Highlights®, there was always a puzzle called “Hidden Pictures.” I just loved “Hidden Pictures.” And I could even deal with the dentist’s drilling and the doctor’s needles, to spend some time with Highlights®. If you’d never seen a “Hidden Pictures” puzzle, what it is, is a fairly complex, pencil-lined drawing, within which, are a dozen or so hidden pictures of birds, or tea kettles, or umbrellas, or diamond rings. And it would take quite a bit of serious study to find them all.
Now, the reason I bring this up is that today’s readings are beautiful word-replicates of these “Hidden Picture” puzzles. They are images of grape vineyards, from the time of Isaiah the prophet, about 750 BC, and the time of Jesus. Now in our mind’s eye, we might envision the gently sloping, fertile, brown hillsides, with acres and acres of bright green grape vines. And atop one of the hills is what we might call “the farmhouse”, which consists of a watchtower, where the farmer lived, and a wine-press. And protecting and surrounding the vineyard is a thick border of thorn bushes. Yet hidden somewhere within that vineyard, among all the other exquisite gems, are two sparkling diamonds. Let’s see if we can find them. . .
In our first vineyard allegory, the prophet Isaiah, who is speaking FOR God, is chastising the Judeans for abusing and neglecting the precious gifts, God has given them. You see, God chose Israel and Judah as His special people. He saved them from slavery in Egypt. He brought them to the “Promised Land”. He banished it’s former, devious and sinful inhabitants. He gave them laws and guidelines to protect them from harm. And then he entrusted them with the freedom to make their own choices. You see, they had all the tools they needed to do a spectacular job, to be a fruitful and abundant vineyard.
Yet even with all of that, they still failed to remain faithful to God. And in the end, they became a sinful and devious nation themselves. So, from God’s point of view, the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem didn’t deserve to remain in His vineyard. And already by that time, the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were being overtaken by the Assyrians. And so the bottom line for the first picture, was that the People Failed God. And our message to take home might be something like this: How well are we taking care of, and using, God’s awesome gifts to us: our Lives, our Talents, our Earthly Home, our Children, our Neighbors and our very Souls?
Now it’s interesting to note, that when we move to the Psalm Reading for today, which is coming from the People’s point of view, it was God who failed them. They acknowledged that the vineyard belonged to God. They acknowledged that they are that vineyard. But to these Israelites, it was God who abandoned them. It was God who broke down the protecting walls. It was God who caused all of their problems. . .
Do we ever tend to blame God for all of our problems? Do we ever try to make deals with God? “Look, God, if you help me through this, I promise: I’ll pray more, I’ll stay till the very end of Mass, I’ll even listen closer to the readings. As a matter of fact, I’ll even try to sing!!” But you see, in reality, God doesn’t benefit if we do all of those things. In reality, we do ourselves! These are God’s gifts to us. And it’s through them, that God strengthens us to get through those challenges in life, not the other way around. You see, it was the dentist’s drilling and the doctor’s needles that actually helped me, not the Highlights®. And that’s why my parents brought me there in the first place, to help me.
So now we’ve discovered two hidden pictures: One in which God is, well, lovingly, blaming the people, and another in which the People are, well maybe, thankfully, blaming God. And yet, after all of this, we still haven’t found the first of the those two hidden diamonds, Until now. . .
It comes in the form of one more vineyard parable. This time given by Jesus. And like Isaiah’s allegory and the Psalm, Jesus confirms for the third time, that God put together quite an extraordinary vineyard in His people, Israel. And then, Jesus continues, in a little more detail. He tells us that God entrusted His people to responsible leaders. And He provided those leaders with wise and intelligent advisors to keep them on track. But somewhere in the process, the leaders began to take advantage of the people, for the sake of their own greed. And when the advisors pleaded with them to change their ways, because their actions were going to destroy their very nation, they instead eliminated the advisors. . .
So God Himself decided to come down among His people. It was predicted in all the prophesies that the leaders read every day, their Declaration, their Constitution, their Torah – that they twisted beyond recognition – to serve themselves. But they knew! And instead of change, they chose to eliminate God as well. And so they thought they did. (Jesus Crucified) But within that vineyard, this diamond, our Jesus, could not be destroyed. He is and always will be our “Cornerstone,” our “Rock of Salvation,” our “Vine” who nourishes us through His Body and His Blood. You see, that cornerstone was and is the foundation of His and our Church. This same body, of all of us, roots back 2000-years to the Apostles, who walked in His very footsteps.
That then, leaves us with one final hidden diamond in today’s Scriptures. And our good doctor is calling us in for our appointment. But there is only one place left to look. And it’s in the words of St. Paul himself, who teaches us how to find – “Peace”, our second diamond. He says, “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… And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” the ‘diamond highlight’ of our lives!
Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside;
he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines;
within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes.
Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard:
What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?
Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard:
take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled!
Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it.
The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry!
Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
R. (Is 5:7a) The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.
A vine from Egypt you transplanted;
you drove away the nations and planted it.
It put forth its foliage to the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River.
Why have you broken down its walls,
so that every passer-by plucks its fruit,
The boar from the forest lays it waste,
and the beasts of the field feed upon it?
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
O LORD, God of hosts, restore us;
if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.
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 that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters,
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.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.
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 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.”