Sunday, October 5, 2014

Homily for 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 5, 2014
Is 5: 1-7
Phil 4: 6-9
Matt 21: 33-43
Iona College, N.R.
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard” (Is 5: 1).

(At Iona: Unfortunately, the recent work on the little house over yonder resulted in the removal of the chain link fence behind it, and thus also of the grape vines that graced the fence.  I’m sure those few vines didn’t qualify as a vineyard, and I never heard any of the brothers singing out there.  Then, again, I think the grapes were wild, so maybe they weren’t worth singing about.)

The poem from Isaiah that we read this evening/morning obviously was chosen to match Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenant farmers—a parable that’s a kind of a follow-up to the parable we heard last week, in the 5 verses immediately preceding this parable in Matthew’s Gospel, about the 2 sons who were asked to go and work in the family vineyard (21:28-32).
Vineyard in Tuscany (Rita Mendl)
But Isaiah’s prophecy stands on its own as a kind of parable about the Lord’s care for the Jewish people and his bitter disappointment at their failure in Isaiah’s time (the 2d half of the 8th century B.C.) to respond to his care, a disappointment that leads to disaster for them:  “Yes, I will make it a ruin” (5:6).

The Lord is the prophet’s friend, according to the prophetic poem (5:1), and the Lord’s care for his vineyard bespeaks love, a desire to befriend all of Israel and not just the prophet:  the friend has chosen the vineyard’s location carefully, worked hard to prepare the ground, made choice plantings, taken protective measures, prepared equipment for the harvest.  Such care merits a response of good fruit, of loving devotion.  “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?” the Lord asks with frustration (5:4).  The vineyard has gone its own way—an image of what the kingdom of Judah, its kings and nobles and priests, has done in Isaiah’s time.

When people go their own way, the Lord does 2 things:  he sends prophets to warn them, to try to lead them back to the right path, and Jesus seems to suggest that in his parable of the tenant farmers today (Matt 21:36); and if they don’t respond to the prophets, he allows them to suffer the consequences, which are inevitably disastrous.  That’s a theme of the Book of Judges, of 1-2 Samuel, and of 1-2 Kings, and it’s a constant warning in the prophetic books of the O.T. as well as in some of Jesus’ parables.

It’s not fashionable to make statements today like those prophecies of old; it’s quite politically incorrect.

Do you think the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the rest are only for our knowledge of ancient Israel?  Do you think they don’t have anything to do with us today?  Or perhaps that they’re only about individuals—if you personally are unfaithful to God, you’ll be punished here or hereafter or both?

Then consider the serious natural disasters afflicting us, year after year:  storms, wildfires, epidemics, and so on.  Consider the sad state of public life.  Consider the tens of thousands of people who’ve fled and are fleeing their homes because they can’t find work, can’t feed themselves, or are threatened by deadly violence.  Consider drug trafficking and human trafficking.  Consider war and terrorism.  Did I leave anything out?

The Bible tells us, “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (Hos 8:7).  Like the vineyard of Israel, when any society goes its own way and has no regard for the One who designed and planted it, that society will collapse.  If we don’t respect the natural world that God created for us, the natural order of that world will break down:  global warming, melting glaciers, rising oceans, weird weather patterns, etc.  If we’re not concerned about justice, we’ll have injustice.  If we’re not concerned about truth, we’ll have lies and deception.  If we’re not concerned about integrity, we’ll have corruption.  If we’re not concerned about the natural meaning of sexuality, marriage, and family, we’ll have a selfish and chaotic society.  If we’re not concerned about human dignity, we’ll have domestic abuse, sexual abuse, abortion, gang violence, and slave labor.  If we don’t honor God’s law, we’ll have only human law:  which mostly means “might makes right.”  Using the Jerusalem Bible translation for Isaiah’s last verse, the Lord “expected justice, but found bloodshed; integrity, but only a cry of distress” (5:7).

St. Paul today advises us how to address life’s difficult issues:  “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, makes your requests known to God” (Phil 4:6).  We pray.  We pray for ourselves and for our society.  We do that in our general intercessions and in our private prayer.

Paul continues:  “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” (4:8).  Think about these things:  shape your interior attitude; shape your heart; shape your soul.  For your actions will follow your heart.  Be a person of truth, honor, justice, purity, etc.  Be an example for your children, grandchildren, students, colleagues, et al., so that your message, mostly unspoken, will be Paul’s:  “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” (4:9).  Peace, purity, justice are attractive and make people want to be with us, be like us.

And in this free society of ours, hold our public officials, corporations, banks, places of business, schools, and sources of entertainment accountable.  Demand that they too be persons or institutions of truth, honor, justice, purity, and general excellence.  The renewal of our society begins with you and me.

“Then the God of peace will be with you” (4:9).  Then the Lord’s face will shine upon us, and we shall be saved (cf. Ps 80:20).

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