Fruit of the Vine by Michael Pirri
In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard the parable of the man with two sons, both of whom get sent out to work in the vineyard. Again, in the first reading and psalm today, we hear about the vineyard. This marks the third week in a row where we speak about the vineyard, though surely not the same vineyard. It’s important to note the use of real world imagery in these parables. Under the rule of the Roman Empire, it was not uncommon for wealthy landowners to mismanage their property. Christ’s use of the vineyard shows a profound understanding and disapproval of the socioeconomic conditions of His time.
The first reading paints a pretty grim view of humanity: The Lord of hosts tended his field and “planted it with choice vines […] he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. […] he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”
I particularly enjoy the duality in the parable which we can draw: on one hand we are the farmer, angry that our good deeds do not yield their just reward; and yet we are also the vineyard, never living up to the potential God gives us. How can we reconcile not living up to our potential? What good deeds have we done that we feel we ought to be thanked for? Psalm 80 acknowledges our shortcomings and gives us a way of recognizing this struggle “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80.19).
In the Gospel, we could once again take the role of the landowner with high expectations for the harvest in the vineyard and the willingness to do what it takes to bring that harvest to fruition. And yet we are greeted with lack of respect and abuse rather than gratitude.
Upon greater reflection, you may see that we’re not the landowner at all — we’re the unruly tenants! We tend to the land and vineyard, and when others come to claim what they believe to be theirs, we feel the need to defend the fruits of our labour. If we are the unruly tenants then, as in the first reading, the Lord is the landowner. So we denied prophet after prophet, until finally His son was sent to us, and we acted no better.
I think the best understanding of the readings today falls somewhere between the two interpretations. The focus, I believe, is to recognize that we are to give thanks for that which is given to us, and to claim each day as an opportunity to do better, realizing all of the things God gives to us.
TESTING MIND AND HEART
by Lucinda M. Vardey
The readings for this Sunday turn what our cultures consider normal or usual to the obscure ways of God, always a mystery to our human reasoning.
We are told by Isaiah to seek God while God may be found: from the psalm that God’s presence is near, in fact as close to us as a heartbeat. Yet, God’s thoughts are not ours. Paul declares dying to be a necessary gain in order to live life true to the Gospel.
The Gospel teaches us that it is no good using our human logic to decipher God’s ways. The hardest work we will ever attempt in our spiritual life includes giving up trying to work God out, dying to our separate agendas and plans, so that we may experience the amazing power that is unleashed through practicing what Jesus preached.
At a recent Mass in a small town in Umbria, Italy, the priest called the Gospel the “Wisdom of Love.” Love speaks more clearly in mystery. It is through our hearts that we can more naturally place Jesus at the centre of our lives, making familiar our place at the last so he can be first in everything.
In her excellent book Radical Gratitude Mary Jo Leddy wrote that finding happiness by truly believing that Jesus meant what he said, required a turning away from the economies of consumption, gain, competition and rewards, towards one of gratitude and gift. Gratitude develops the grace of hope and trust in the everlasting goodness of God, acceptance of the wisdom of God in each situation, and receptivity to being surprised by God’s generosity.
Philippians 1.20-24, 27
by Lisa Fernandes
“To err is human, to forgive divine” as Alexander Pope wrote. Today’s readings capture this difficult path we all have to travel. We want to be forgiven our human transgressions, as difficult as it is for us to forgive others. As in the first reading: “Forgive your neighbour the wrong that is done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” (Sirach 28.2)
Today’s Gospel reading tells us more about forgiveness. The parable is about a slave whose debt is forgiven by his king but who does not “pay it forward” and show forgiveness to a fellow slave who is indebted to him but instead tortures him, and thus warns us: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18.35)
The difficulty of forgiveness is shown when Peter asks Jesus if seven times is enough to forgive his brother or sister and: “Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18.22)
Seven is a significant number in the Bible usually related to completeness and perfection (God rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and earth, and seven pairs of clean animals went on the ark etc…) so this is not a literal counting but a lesson about the limitlessness of forgiveness. In the Old Testament, the number seven was more associated with revenge: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ ”(Genesis 4.15) while the New Testament has a contrasting emphasis on forgiveness.
God forgives us unconditionally; how can we aspire to do the same with others? We can start small. If someone cuts you off on the road, instead of road rage forgive them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Or if someone doesn’t hold the door for you, give them a pass. Every week in Mass when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There are role models both religious and secular, such as Nelson Mandela who forgave and reconciled with those who had kept him captive.
As C.S. Lewis put it, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you”.