First reading Isaiah 5:1-7
Against the Lord’s vineyard
Let me sing to my friend
the song of his love for his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug the soil, cleared it of stones
and planted choice vines in it.
In the middle he built a tower,
he dug a press there too.
He expected it to yield grapes,
but sour grapes were all that it gave.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
I ask you to judge
between my vineyard and me.
What could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not done?
I expected it to yield grapes.
Why did it yield sour grapes instead?
Very well, I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge for it to be grazed on,
and knock down its wall for it to be trampled on.
I will lay it waste, unpruned, undug;
overgrown by the briar and the thorn.
I will command the clouds
to rain no rain on it.
Yes, the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts
is the House of Israel,
and the men of Judah
that chosen plant.
He expected justice, but found bloodshed,
integrity, but only a cry of distress.
Responsorial Psalm 79(80):9,12-16,19-20
The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
to plant it you drove out the nations.
It stretched out its branches to the sea,
to the Great River it stretched out its shoots.
Then why have you broken down its walls?
It is plucked by all who pass by.
It is ravaged by the boar of the forest,
devoured by the beasts of the field.
God of hosts, turn again, we implore,
look down from heaven and see.
Visit this vine and protect it,
the vine your right hand has planted.
And we shall never forsake you again;
give us life that we may call upon your name.
God of hosts, bring us back;
let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.
Second reading Philippians 4:6-9
If there is anything you need, pray for it.
There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Gospel Matthew 21:33-43
This is the landlord’s heir: come, let us kill him
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?
‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’
The Responsorial Psalm of today’s Mass (Psalm 80) was written at a time of national disaster. The author likens the people to a vine that was planted and cared for by God, who has now abandoned it. He understands the disaster as an expression of God’s disapproval and anger.
Isaiah in the First Reading also speaks of Israel as a vine. He explains why God has allowed his vineyard Israel to be despoiled: ‘God expected justice (mishpat), but found a cover up (mishpah); God expected integrity (tsedaqah), but there was only a cry of distress (tse‘aqah)’.
People in positions of power can give things the appearance of justice and integrity, but the reality can be very different. This is consistent with one of the central themes of the prophets. They expose not simply injustices, but hidden injustices, especially injustices that are supported by law: the injustices of the powerful who can get away with it.
Isaiah is screaming out to those responsible for justice to do what they are pretending to do. God does not want look-alike justice. God wants the real thing.
Jesus, too, likens the community to a vine. He, too, is aiming his critique especially against the religious leaders of his day who are responsible for carrying out God’s will by caring for the community, but who are unfaithful to the covenant, who use God’s gifts for their own advantage, and who reject the prophets sent to speak God’s word to them.
We are this Christian church. We are assured of the presence of the Spirit of Jesus in our midst. Today, this same Spirit is challenging the religious leaders of our Church, and all who have the privilege and authority to tend the vine, to examine our corporate conscience.
The question we are to ask today is: when we are crucified, what fruit do we produce? When our hearts are pierced, what does the lance reveal? When we are broken as he was, do we continue to offer ourselves in love? When we who are hungry and thirsty and confused come to the Church with our burden of sin what kind of welcome do we receive? Do we find the father of the prodigal son? Do we experience Jesus walking with us in our pain, delighting to be in our company and speaking words of hope?
Fr Michael Fallon msc