FIRST READING (The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.)
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (5:1-7)
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!—The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
RESPONSORIAL PSALM (80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20)
R. The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. (Is 5:7a)
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. (R)
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? (R)
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. (R)
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. (R)
SECOND READING (Do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.)
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians (4:6-9)
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.—The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL ACCLAMATION (Cf. Jn 15:16)
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I have chosen you from the world, says the Lord, to go and bear fruit that will remain. (R)
GOSPEL (He will lease his vineyard to other tenants.)
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (21:33-43)
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 the third they stoned. Again the landowner sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but the tenants treated the servants in the same way. Finally, the landowner sent his son to the tenants, 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 the son, 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 Jesus, “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.” —The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
“The vineyard on a fertile hillside”
Continuing on a theme from last Sundays’ Gospel, both our first reading from Isaiah and today’s passage from Matthew present us with examples of one of the most common images in all Scripture, that of a vineyard, but today with particular attention to the one who cares for it. It is an image that was familiar to the people of the Biblical lands – and it is one that resonates with us even today.
Understanding this parable is easier if we see the connection between the passage from Isaiah, and his famous “Song of the Vineyard” and the commentary – the midrash – given to it by Christ in his teaching today.
Tales of unrequited love have given shape and substance to some of the most famous tragic dramas in literature and the arts. From ancient Greek literature we have Euripides’ Medea. From Shakespeare we have many examples but especially Othello, where we have the character Rodrigo pushing for the downfall, “of one that loved not wisely, but too well”. For those who studied the epic poems in Latin, we have Virgil’s Aeneid with Dido on the shores of Carthage as Aeneas sails away; in opera nearly all of the dramas and most poignant arias sing of unrequited love, love that ultimately leads to tragic consequences, such as Bizet’s Carmen (Carmen and Don Jose) or any of the one-act operas of Puccini’s il Tritico (Suor Angelica, or Il Tabarro) or such standards as Cho Cho San and CaptPinkerton (Madame Butterfly), Violetta and Alfredo from La Traviata, Norma and Pollione from Norma, Floria Tosca and both Cavaradossi and Scarpia from Tosca, and an endless list of Wagnerian subjects and even Romeo and Juliet, the most famous… These dramas are watched over and over because they help us grasp the real-life tragedy of spurned love that is played out in divorce and family courts across the world.
Scripture also offers us an extensive panorama of spurned love. “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” hears the complaints of his people against the slavery in Egypt, knows of their suffering, comes down and rescues them and makes a covenant of enduring fidelity with them. But this COVENANT is broken again and again, rejected by the very people who were saved; God spurned and often seen reaching out to a stubborn, obtuse people. And it is this spurned love that gives rise to the poetic Song of the Vineyardfrom Isaiah in our first reading. It reminds us of a God who is a friend “My friend” who painstakingly plants the vineyard with his hands with loving care so that it would yield fruit, but instead it yields sour grapes.
A distraught vineyard owner – GOD – pleads with the vineyard tenants, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the people of Judah, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not yet done?” And here the song turns tragic as God will cause ruin to the vineyard because he looked for judgment (mishpat) but received bloodshed (mishpat); for justice (sedaqah) but received a cry (se’aqah). Behind this play on words is the unjust exploitation of God’s people by the leaders of Jerusalem.
Taken now in this light, the parable of the Gospel becomes an allegory of the rejection of Jesus by the leaders of Jerusalem, that results in the destruction of the Temple and the transfer of the vineyard to other tenants – the Gentiles. Further, the almost inexplicable decision of the owner of the vineyard to send his son to face the rebellious tenants reflects the pattern in which the a long-suffering and compassionate God reaches out in the face of the most blatant forms of apostasy and idolatry. It is a story of the divine pathos – which is the great paradox of biblical faith; the story of a longing God’s pursuit of humanity.
This beautiful parable of the vineyard owner illustrates the care, the concern that the Father lavishes on us, his people. But it reminds us too that we were not created to be left on our own. We have been called and blessed to benefit from the direction, the purpose and the meaning that the Father can and will give to our lives. We are created not for tragedy but for glory; not for unrequited love, but for endless love.
Many feel today that they are set adrift in a world in which we are faced with far greater demands and challenges than many of us feel capable of meeting. Whether the task be in making a decent living, making peace, finding justice, raising a family, finding a true friend, or simply doing one’s job, many people experience e themselves as facing it alone – facing more than they can possible handle.
But the Scripture readings today – aside from addressing unrequited live – remind us that we are NOT ALONE. There is no challenge, no task, no life that any of God’s people are asked to face entirely alone. Our concerns are the concerns of a loving Father. Our efforts to grow are under his care, his direction. St. Paul understands this in our 2nd reading when he advises us, “Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to the Father, and his own peace will stand guard over you.”
And the image of the vineyard in the 1st reading and the Gospel are not the entire story. Going beyond the parable we should see that we, the Church, are not plants, we are people. This means we have a role in the vineyard. Plants have people to take care of them; but we are people – the people God has placed in his vineyard to do his work; to minister to each other while serving God. Yes, he says “Don’t’t be anxious; Don’t despair!” But he does NOT say “Don’t be concerned; don’t be involved in your own growth.”
My friends, the image of the vineyard is a valuable one – one that touches our lives directly because it speaks to a deep longing – to be loved. We are not created in unrequited LOVE; rather the readings today re-enact on a divine scale the age-old mystery of total love given to another, which should blossom forth in bountiful fruit, but which, when refused or abused, unravels in destructive tragedy. The Gospel calls on all of us who are Christian to them of ourselves as GIFTED TENANTS of God’s vineyard, which warning us of the consequences of neglect. In this time of year when many are reaping harvests, we are reminded as a Church to review and reflect on our own vineyard where we have been placed to tend the vines – how well are we doing this? Are we bringing about a harvest of good, sweet grapes?
Celebrant: We worry about many things in life. St. Paul tells us that there is no need to worry, but that we should “ask God with prayer and thanksgiving” for our needs.
READER: For the Church of God, that the beloved vineyard of the Lord may produce its fruit for his glory, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For our beloved homeland, that representatives will reflect God’s values as their ultimate guiding force, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That compassion may create in our hearts a welcome for the socially and economically disadvantaged, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That in this month dedicated to the Holy Rosary, through the intercession of our Mother Mary, we may all be worthy labourers in God’s vineyard, drawing all closer to Jesus through Mary, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: [SMC For the members of the Tsoi and Edward families, and] For those who have asked for our prayers as well as for our faithful departed and the bereaved who mourn for them, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
CELEBRANT: Lord God, creator and giver of life, hear the prayers of your people. Transform us in your love so that your kingdom my grow in our midst. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. (all) AMEN.