FIRST READING 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!
SECOND READING 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.
GOSPEL 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 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.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Saint Paul tells us today in the second reading, from the Letter to the Philippians: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” The other two readings, the first one from the Prophet Isaiah and the Gospel from Saint Matthew, speak of God’s love for us that is so intense that it is expressed in images of destruction for those who will not listen to His love and respond to it.
Surely we must be mature enough to understand that Scripture uses images. There is no way that our loving God is going to try to destroy us or even try to harm us in any way. The images that are used in Scripture sometimes leave us with a sense that God is just waiting to judge us and throw us in Hell. But that is because we misunderstand the words and images of Scripture. We take them as an accurate image of God. Instead, the words of Scripture are the words of men, reflecting in some Divine Way, the reality of God.
We have to know that images that depict God as angry reflect the way that we feel at times when nothing goes the way we want it to go, even when we are trying to be good. We also have to recognize that bad actions on our own part will bring bad results in our lives—not because of God wanting to do something bad to us but because our life will reflect the way that we live. If we live dishonestly, it will destroy us eventually. If we live just according to the lusts of the flesh, that also will eventually destroy any deep relationships what we might have. If we live only seeking power, we will at some point lose power and realize that what we sought was worth nothing.
It is our own actions that actually end up condemning us and making our lives to be a mess—not God. So many of the great theologians and saints have said in their writings that God condemns no one. Rather we condemn ourselves by the choices that we make.
The images today in the first reading and the Gospel are about what we humans do with our lives, both personally and as a people or as a community. We mess things up and we reject God and His ways. The image used to show that God sees what is happening is that of God’s anger—but we must remember that it is God who is upset with us for choosing against Him. God always loves us unconditionally and even accepts our rejection of Him. God cannot change us unless we choose to let God change us. Sometimes when our lives are a mess, all we can do is ask God: “Help me.” That is enough. But when we blame the mess on God and reject God, then God cannot help us unless we have some openness to Him.
So the message of the readings today is very clear: choose God and pray to God with a complete confidence. If we reject God, he cannot go against our own free will which He gave us. God’s choice is always love! Our choice is up to us.
Your brother in the Lord,
Abbot Emeritus Philip’s words always give me pause.
I am lazy when it comes to the Sunday readings. I do not pause to meditate how they are tied together and how I should apply them to my life or try to explain to students!
The abbot’s hour meditation can develop these thoughts so beautifully and fatherly. I’m sure the other monks appreciate his ability to articulate Scripture!
“So many of the great theologians and saints have said in their writings that God condemns no one.”
A puzzling statement. It would be helpful to know the names of those “great theologians and saints” and to know exactly where in their writings we can find the assertion that “God condemns no one.”