Posted by: matt25 | October 6, 2008

27th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A: Respect Life Sunday.

As you may or may not know, I am in formation to be ordained as a Permanent Deacon in the Latin Rite church.  Should I be blessed to be ordained  it will be my responsibility to proclaim the Gospel at Mass and sometimes to preach the homily.  I would like to do this to the best of my ability.  While there needs to be a great deal of room for the Holy Spirit to work I must do what I can to hone the art and craft of preaching in my life.  To that end, I invite your constructive criticism and thank you in advance for giving it.

27th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A: Respect Life Sunday.
Is 5:1-7
Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Phil 4:6-9
Mt 21:33-43

Imagine for a moment that you are living 3000 or so years ago in the Holy land. It’s harvest time and you have been working in the family vineyard. After a couple of weeks of hard manual labor the crop is in so the family has a party to celebrate. An entertainer comes forward after the meal to sing…

The song of the vineyard, it is thought, was composed by the prophet Isaiah during the early part of his ministry and was sung at vintage festivals. Only at the very end does it equate the vineyard with Israel, turning a happy little song about country life into an expression of God’s judgment upon his people…..

This is a clever turn on the part of the singer, who has held the attention and approval of the partygoers up to this point. The parables of Jesus are clearly in the same tradition.

As with last Sunday’s parable about the 2 sons who were asked to work in the vineyard, the chief priests and elders provide the right answer to Jesus’ question, but fail to see that their own answer condemns them. But Jesus leaves no room for doubt today:

“the kingdom of God will be taken away from you

and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

For 3 weeks now we have heard about vineyards: All three of these Sundays have used the vineyard as an image for God’s kingdom. This is a vineyard in which laborers experience God’s generosity, in which the landowner’s Son shares in the labor, and for which God cares faithfully.

But we delude ourselves if we think we are only to examine scripture in the historical period in which it was written. Yes, that is helpful for understanding the meaning behind the author’s intent….

But if the word of God lives for us, it must be spoken now.

It must be received now.

If we are concerned only with knowing the historical context of Isaiah’s vineyard story, we will miss what the prophet has to say to us. And if prophets have nothing to say to us, why bother listening to them at all?

What if our church is seen as the new House of Israel, God’s cherished vineyard? What if we are that land, carefully cleared of stones, now filled with vines delicately planted? Then Isaiah’s words might shake us.

“He looked for judgment, but saw bloodshed! He looked for justice, but heard cries.”

Despite everything that was done for this vineyard, despite all that was given, there was a harvest of sour grapes. So the owner ordered: it shall all be torn down, eroded, and trampled, overgrown with briars and thorns.

Are these words addressed to our church?

When Jesus looks at scripture, it’s a different story. He recalls Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard, but updates it for his own time and people. The leaders of his age were rejecting him, son of the vineyard’s Lord, just as they rejected the prophets before him.

What is worse, they reject him as the Son of God, even kill him, in the false hope that they will then get the inheritance for themselves.

But if we stop there, the gospel will never strike us. We simply avoid its force.

The parable of the vineyard, in both Isaiah’s account and Jesus’ retelling for his day and age, must in some way be a message given to today’s church.

God had such high hopes for the Chosen People, and look…..

The covenantal friendship that God established with them often yielded wild, sour grapes.

They sometimes forgot God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, God’s life.

God knew the whole time, that he could not make anybody love Him. Friendship and Love can never be forced… it is that free.

We, too, are given that freedom. Freedom to embrace or deny friendship with God. Freedom to accept or reject God’s goodness. Freedom to cherish the life of God, or destroy it. As we became followers of Christ, no freedom was taken away in our responsibility to make choices regarding God’s gift of life.

You and I continue to wait for harvest time when the Master returns to see how well we have made choices in the growing of God’s Kingdom, caring for the vineyard which God has left us to tend.

This weekend we take time to examine God’s gift of life. All of these issues are very much on our minds as we are preparing to elect a new presidential candidate: stem cell research, abortion, war, health care, provisions for the elderly and underprivileged, fair housing and as of late, a very shaky economic picture. A deep understanding of friendship in the midst of God’s vineyard of life may well be a very healthy guide as we look at the many, many situations that we are facing in our complex world today.

Edward Cardinal Egan and the Catholic Bishops of New York State have issued an appeal to Catholic New Yorkers, urging them to vote in the coming general election. In a statement entitled Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty, the bishops present a list of questions on important issues for voters to consider as they inform their consciences in preparation for entering the voting booth.

In the statement, the bishops warn against voting solely out of party loyalty or self-interest. Instead, they wrote, Catholics should be guided by the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church on social issues. While noting that there are many issues of great importance facing the country, the protection of human life rises above all other issues, the bishops said. “The right to life is the right through which all others flow,” they wrote. “To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office.”

In the statement, the bishops stressed that voters have an obligation not only to learn the positions of the presidential candidates, but of all of the candidates, including those running for the state legislature. “Many of the most compelling moral issues of the day play out at the state level,”

The bishops presented questions on issues related to the right to life, parental rights in education, protecting marriage, immigration reform, access to health care, protecting the poor and religious liberty.

The Bishops are calling us to hear the words of Jesus and Isaiah and Paul and all of scripture as fresh and vital, still full of sap, still green… and to apply them in our lives, every part of our lives.

In a certain sense, it is always harvest time.

Every week when the gifts are brought forward we bring the harvest of our week with us.

What we have brought with us, the offering of our lives, is a result of what we have chosen to do all week long.

Have we embraced or set aside God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, God’s life.

We will either be good fruit or wild grapes. The choice is ours. Let us pray for each other and for ourselves that we choose wisely.

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