Sunday Sermon for October 5, 2014, the Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43
In the first reading today we hear about God’s choice of Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, as the people from whom He expects great fruit to be produced. In the reading Israel is likened to a vineyard in which only the choicest vines were planted and everything was done to guarantee an abundant harvest of the best grapes. However, when the owner of the vineyard came seeking the grapes, He found that the vines had produced wild grapes.
The type of grapes He was expecting to find are people living holy and virtuous lives. Instead of justice and judgment there was outcry and bloodshed. While the reading does not contain any further examples, I think we could ask about the charity, honesty, chastity, fidelity, prayer, and so many more. While there were certainly some good and holy people among the Israelites, it seems evident from the passage that this was a very small minority.
In the Gospel reading today Jesus takes up the same theme of a vineyard, a theme which should have been immediately recognizable to His audience of Jewish people. In this case, however, the Lord takes a slightly different approach to the problem. He speaks about all those whom God had sent to the Israelites to obtain the desired produce. The servants the Lord sent are the Prophets and the Judges of old, but the people refused to heed the voice of the Lord spoken through His servants.
Finally, Jesus says, God sent His Son thinking that the people would respect the Son. Instead, in their selfishness, all they saw was the Heir to everything the Father had and thought that since He was the only Son, if He was dead, the tenants might get the inheritance. It is interesting that their shortsightedness was actually correct, but in a way very different from what they were thinking. Indeed, it is only because of the death of our Lord that we are made heirs with Christ, but this gift must be received in the same selfless manner in which it was given.
At the end of the Gospel reading our Lord tells the Jewish people that the Kingdom was going to be taken away from them and given to a people who would produce fruit. Well, that would be you and me. This being the case, we have to ask whether or not we are bearing the fruit God is seeking. Remember that our Lord told us in St. John’s Gospel that He chose us to bear great fruit.
Certainly we can look at the lives of the Saints and point out that there have been people in every generation who have served the Lord in a profound way. Even in our day we can say the same. But the question is not about the few, the question is about the many, including our own selves. Thankfully we have the Saints who are like those servants God sent. Do we listen to them? Do they inspire us to live truly holy lives?
I have pointed out the disconnect among Catholics who read the stories of the lives of the Saints to their children, but then tell the children when they get older not be be like the Saints. Making more money, getting ahead in a worldly way, serving the self rather than the Lord, in other words, living a selfish life that is not very holy or virtuous in order to fit in and be like everyone else, is what we often teach our children as they get older.
God is looking for something far great from us. We cannot rely on the idea that God has chosen us any more than the people of Israel could rely on that reasoning. The Kingdom was taken from them and given to others, but the question, again, is whether those others are producing fruit any better than the previous tenants. We might object that we do not really know how to produce such fruit. After all, the catechetical teachings have been so poor, the lives of the Saints seem so far beyond us, and there are so few examples for us to emulate that we do not know what we are supposed to do.
Actually, virtue has not changed; the circumstances in which we have to practice the virtues have changed in our modern world, but the virtues remain the same. I think a good place for all of us to start is with St. Paul’s instruction in the second reading: 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. What a difference it would make if our focus was on the good and on God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.