SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
For the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A) – October 8, 2017
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: …. For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.” (Romans 1:16-17)
This Sunday’s Theme: Righteousness.
Righteousness is defined as the living, dynamic relationship between us and God wherein we are spiritually and morally acceptable to God. It is conformity to God’s will in word, thought, and action; living a consistently conscientious (ethical, honest, honorable, just, moral, principled, scrupulous) life. It’s” using our Free Will to do what we ought rather than always what we want” (St. Pope John Paul II).
Reading 1 and the Gospel reading present an image of Israel as a vineyard where God the Divine Planter and Cultivator has sown His seed. But Israel has failed miserably to produce a good harvest. In Reading 2, Paul exhorts the Philippians to avoid anxiety, to be prayerful, and to constantly seek to do what is honorable, good, and true.
Reading 1 – Isaiah 5:1-7 The Lord compares the house of Israel to a vineyard.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 80:9,12-16,19-20 The Lord protects His vineyard, the house of Israel.
Reading 2 – Philippians 4:6-9 Paul encourages the Philippians to stay faithful to the teaching they received from him.
Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43 Jesus tells the parable about the wicked tenants.
NOTE: To gain clarity of understanding in all of the following scriptural passages that have many inline footnotes, first read only the purple colored scriptural words in the passage. Then re-read the passage along with the green colored inline footnotes.
Reading 1 Isaiah 5:1-7 (The Lord’s Vineyard)
Context – The keynote of the Book of Isaiah is salvation (Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves”). He was the prophet of the southern kingdom, Judah, and lived at the time (ie. 742 – 687 BC) when the northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Jerusalem, was destroyed. At this time all that was left of the old kingdom of David was Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. He prophesized for 64 years. He prophesized doom for a sinful Judah and Israel and for all the nations of the world that oppose God. Then, he prophesized God’s restoration of the nation of Israel, including Judah, and this is interpreted by Christians as prefiguring the coming of Christ. After the Psalms, Isaiah is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament.
Today’s Reading – Isaiah is prophesying in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the northern kingdom, Israel. Israel is God’s vineyard which He transplanted from Egypt into the land of Canaan and carefully cared for and cultivated it. There is nothing that He did not do for His vineyard. Isaiah’s listeners are compelled to admit that absolutely nothing has been wanting in God’s dealings with them. The Planter and Cultivator of the vineyard naturally expects the vineyard to produce good fruit. But all it yields is “sour grapes”—bloodshed, oppression and infidelity. God sowed peace, but got violence from His people. God looked for true worship and got idolatry. God sowed seeds of justice, but injustice grew up. The message is clear. God has given all; Israel has yielded nothing. As a result, the Owner is going to withdraw His protecting hand and Israel will be transplanted into exile, subjected to a drought, and given the opportunity to repent and make a new choice for God.
Let me now sing of my Friend (God), my Friend’s song concerning His vineyard (the people of Israel). 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. (All of this describes God’s careful preparation of the Israelis to bring forth spiritual fruit. Yet all His work was for naught; His finest vines (the people) disappointed Him.)
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? (All of this describes how then Isaiah confronted his audience, the people of Israel, by asking them – What more could God have done to insure a righteous relationship (a good crop) rather than incurring their sinfulness (a bad crop) ? The answer is that God did all that was necessary, but the people did not do their part.) 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. (All of this prophesies that God will put the Israelis in exile.) 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! (God requires righteousness from His people, but if we use our Free Will to produce the contrary, then we shall experience the consequences of our sins.)
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you. Other symbolisms of Israel being a vineyard – Hosea 10:1-2 “Israel is a luxuriant vine whose fruit matches its growth. The more abundant His fruit, the more altars He built; The more productive His land, the more sacred pillars He set up. Their heart is false! Now they will pay for their guilt: God will break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars.”. Jeremiah 2:21 – “But I had planted you as a choice vine, all pedigreed stock; How could you turn out so obnoxious to Me, a spurious vine?”. Ezekiel 19:10-14 – ” Your mother was like a leafy vine planted by water, Fruitful and full of branches because of abundant water. One strong branch grew into a royal scepter. So tall it towered among the clouds, conspicuous in height, with dense foliage. But she was torn out in fury and flung to the ground; The east wind withered her up, her fruit was plucked away; Her strongest branch dried up, fire devoured it. Now she is planted in a wilderness, in a dry, parched land. Fire flashed from her branch, and devoured her shoots; Now she does not have a strong branch, a royal scepter!”.
Responsorial Psalm. Psalm 80:9,12-16,19-20 (Safety in the Lord)
Today’s Psalm – The theme of the vineyard is continued in this psalm. The psalmist petitions God to watch His vineyard.
God’s people are similar to a grape vine in that God has called us to be a blessing to others. However if we do not walk in trust and obedience, God may prune us back and limit our fruitfulness, with a view to increasing our ultimate productivity. The vine experiences blessing itself as it becomes a blessing to others. If we depart from God we need to call on Him to restore our fruitfulness and commit ourselves to Him again. (From Thomas Constable)
R. – 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.
R. – The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. Why have You broken down its walls, so that every passer-by plucks its fruit (The Lord has withdrawn His protection for Israel because the vineyard has not rendered good fruit – that is the people of Israel have abandon their God.), The boar from the forest (the devil) lays it waste, and the beasts of the field feed upon it?
R. The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. 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. The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. 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. The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
Reading 2. Philippians 4:6-9 (Wholesome Thoughts)
Context – St. Paul founded the church in Philippi (in northern Greece) in 50 AD and this letter was written about ten years later. Philippians is a letter of thanks and encouragement to a congregation of dear friends of Paul. They supported the imprisoned apostle with their prayers and financial assistance. Much of this letter challenges the Philippians to grow in spiritual maturity and imitating both their Savior and their founding apostle. He holds up Jesus Christ as the model of humility and selfless love and himself as a model of patient endurance.
Today’s Reading – Paul addresses the “worry warts” in the Philippian community. In times of worry and anxiety, they are exhorted to turn to God in prayer and place their trust in Him. In doing so, they will come to know the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” Then Paul exhorts his readers to live lives patterned after Christ – live righteously. Christian thinking and behavior will open them to the kind of peace that only God can give.
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 (valid, honest, and reliable), whatever is honorable (worthy of respect), whatever is just (upright), whatever is pure (moral purity), whatever is lovely (amiable, agreeable, or pleasing), whatever is gracious (kind and merciful), if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (This wholesome thinking should encourage and assist us with wholesome conduct, which will lead us to righteousness in the eyes of God.) Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. (We are all called to imitate the saints in what we do and say.) Then the God of Peace will be with you.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
Gospel Matthew 21:33-43 (The Tenant Farmers)
Context – Matthew’s Gospel, written prior to 70 AD, is the first book of the New Testament, not because it was written first – some of Paul’s epistles take that honor – but because it is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. His purpose was to prove to his fellow Jews that Jesus is the One to whom all the Jewish prophets point: the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. To accomplish his mission He uses more Old Testament quotations and references than any other Gospel.
Today’s Reading – By this parable, our Savior teaches the Jews that the providence of God had wonderfully watched over them from the beginning, that nothing had been omitted to promote their salvation, and that notwithstanding His prophets had been put to most cruel deaths, still the Almighty was not turned away from them, but had at length sent down His only Son, who should suffer at their hands the inexpressible ignominies and tortures of His cross and passion. (From St. Chrysostom)
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard (Again, the vineyard is representative of God’s chosen people.), 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. (This first part of the parable reflects our Reading 1.) When vintage time drew near (Time for the harvest, time to rally the faithful.), he sent his servants (the prophets) 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 (Jesus).’ 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 (Jesus was crucified outside the walls of the city.). 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.” (It is ironic that the chief priests, who are incriminated by the story, give the harsh answer.) 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? (Psalm 118:22-23) 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.” (This Kingdom is the Church founded on Peter by Jesus. Peter and the apostles are the foundation, Jesus is the cornerstone which keeps the structure from collapsing. Due to the Jews rejection (their unrighteousness), this Church will now be taken to the Gentiles – taken from the unbelieving and given to the faithful.)
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you. St. Augustine remarks, that this parable was addressed not only to the opponents of Christ’s authority, but likewise to the regular Jewish people.
Catechism 755 – The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing.