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Bulletin: October 4, 2020

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s first reading, psalm, and Gospel concentrate heavily on vineyards. For those of us who don’t drink wine or have never set foot in a vineyard, these scriptures may seem inaccessible. But if we consider the tremendous importance of wine to the ancient world, we hear the scriptures asking us to make a life-or-death decision. Choosing death means forsaking our relationship with God and taking upon ourselves all the anxiety of faithlessness. Choosing life means paying attention to the kingdom of God on earth, striving to pursue “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious.” Today’s vineyard metaphors invite us to identify our highest priority in life and tend to it. If we ask, God will help us order our lives correctly so we are free to cultivate our vineyards in love.


The Church presents today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings together, as a pair. We delight in the symmetry between the two passages. Jesus, who is the Word of God, knows the Hebrew scriptures by heart and intends for his parable to echo Isaiah. As Jesus begins speaking, he summons the words of Isaiah, knowing his learned audience of chief priests and elders will feel comfortable with a familiar scripture passage. These scholars recognize immediately that Jesus is referring to a prophetic passage about sin, about the chosen people’s tendency to turn away from God and grow “wild.”


What Jesus does next surprises his audience. He adds a new twist to Isaiah’s well-known words, adding a new character, the landowner’s very own son. Adding this innovation shows that Jesus confirms the prophet’s warning—that God longs for “his cherished plant” to grow according to the divine plan. The narrative twist also allows Jesus to reveal the fullness of God’s plan in a way his audience can understand. Like a master teacher, Jesus respects the knowledge and faithfulness of the chief priests and elders, and then builds on what they know. By adding the landowner’s son to the parable of the vineyard, Jesus gently expresses his own mission as the Son of God. Matthew’s Gospel often depicts the chief priests and elders as oppositional; they worry that Jesus will abolish the law and foment rebellion. As the Lord said earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, however, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus’ audience is skeptical about him, horrified at the thought of a mere human being claiming that he is the Son of God. Jesus’ masterful approach provides an opportunity for his audience to give him the benefit of the doubt. In this way, Jesus proposes—not imposes—his kingship, inviting us all to follow him.

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