Sunday Sermon for October 4, 2020, the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43
In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells a parable about a vineyard owner who did everything correctly to ensure his vineyard would provide good grapes. The vineyard was leased to tenants who were to provide the owner with a portion of the grapes. When harvest time arrived, the owner sent servants to obtain the grapes, but the tenants abused and killed them. When the owner sent his son, the tenants killed him, too. Their sin had corrupted their minds to the point they were not able to think clearly (this happens with any mortal sin) and they had actually convinced themselves that if they killed the son, they would acquire the vineyard. Needless to say, this did not meet with the approval of the owner.
Considering that it was to the chief priests and the elders that Jesus spoke this parable, it is almost certain that they would have called to mind the passage from Isaiah, which we hear in the first in the first reading. The differences are that the vines in the Isaiah passage produce wild grapes and the owner simply destroys the vineyard whereas in the Gospel, the grapes seem fine, but the people who tend the vines were not. Also, instead of destroying the vineyard, Jesus says it will be taken away from the care of the tenants and given to others who will produce its fruit.
However, in each case, the story addresses the Jewish people. In the passage from Isaiah, the vines God planted are the people of Israel; in the Gospel passage, the tenants are the chief priests and elders who are to care for the people. It is implicit in the Gospel reading that the people of Israel are still the vines, but in this case they are not being cared for properly. Jesus tells the chief priests and elders that the vineyard will be taken from them and given to others. We are now the New Israel; you and I are among the vines the Lord has planted. God has also given care of His vineyard to the Pope, Bishops and Priests.
We will leave to the Lord the question of the care the hierarchy has provided to these choice vines. Considering our Lord’s statements to the chief priests and elders of His time, being among the hierarchy today should not make anyone very comfortable. So, while God will judge the members of the hierarchy, each of us needs to look at our own self and ask if we are producing good grapes for the Lord or, rather, if we are producing wild grapes.
Without the leadership of good and saintly shepherds, many people have begun to justify all kinds of behaviors that are offense to God. The lack of catechesis has resulted in many people essentially making up their own religion. They call themselves Catholics, but they often do not know what the Church teaches on basic doctrines or they reject the teachings and substitute them with their own ideas. Truth and charity provide the foundation for an orderly life. The absence of a solid foundation has left many teetering and in danger of collapsing.
This, along with the constant bombardment of noise and temptations from every direction has left people filled with anxiety. St. Paul, in the second reading, tells us to have no anxiety at all. Many people feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. While this is a terrible scourge for those who suffer from this kind of anxiety, I do not think this is the kind of anxiety St. Paul was addressing. Rather, when he tells us to pray with thanksgiving and to make our requests known to God so the peace of God will fill our minds and hearts then follows immediately with the instruction to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious, he is pointing to the cause of a spiritual kind of anxiety.
Recall that St. John tells us that fear has to do with judgment and that perfect love casts out all fear. The reason for this is that if we are acting in true charity, there is no sin and, consequently, no fear of a negative judgment. So, if we are giving into things that are untrue, dishonorable, impure, ugly, or vicious, we are going to be filled with anxiety for two reasons: first, because these gravitate against our dignity and, second, because the judgment in their regard is going to be harsh.
We cannot bear good fruit if we are immersed in bad situations. We need to free ourselves from these bad influences and strive to live virtuous and holy lives. Then the good vines our Lord has planted will bear good fruit and provide God with His share of the produce of our best fruits.
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.