Saturday, October 4, 2008

Performance Review

(27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

For the last couple of Sundays we’ve heard a lot of parables about vineyards. Indeed, this is a common and potent image that the Sacred Scriptures use for both the people of God and for creation as a whole.

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear this image in its most classic form: The prophet sings of the vineyard of his “friend”—his friend being God. God planted and set up this vineyard with all the best and everything it needed. But when God comes to collect the produce of his vineyard he finds only “wild grapes,” not the nice, cultivated grapes he is looking for. At this God enters into what scripture scholars call a “covenant lawsuit.” God calls for judgment between him and, we may presume, the workers in his vineyard for failing to produce what God intended.

In all of this we find in the prophet a strong image of the relationships between God, ourselves, and the creation. When God creates us and the world it is only the beginning; as we heard in the parable of the workers in the vineyard two weeks ago, God’s creation requires cultivation. God expects that each of us will be an active participant in the work of creation, and bring forth a harvest of peace, justice, and love. More often than not in the history of creation thus far, this hasn’t been the case. To the God who seeks peace and justice, we have more often returned war and oppression. In response to the God who commands us to ‘love one another’ we human beings have more often displayed a disregard for human dignity and even human life itself. And this continues here in our own country even today.

The Gospel we hear today is all about this sad situation. In the parable the landowner is trying to collect his harvest from the tenant farmers. Of course the landowner is meant to be God, and the tenants are the people of God. The first servants who are sent to collect the produce of the vineyard represent the prophets whom the people of God have always abused and rejected. When the landowner sends his own son to the tenants they kill him too. In this we see a strong allegory for the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem, where the priests and leaders of the people handed the Son of God over to death.

And what does God do in the face of this horrible treatment of his messengers and even his own Son? He says to them, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” In this the allegory of Matthew’s historical situation continues. We know that he is imagining the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the beginning of gentile Christianity. Nevertheless, there is a lesson for us in this too.

The history of salvation proves that God does what he has to do to accomplish his loving purpose in creation. God expects us to cultivate ourselves and our world in order to bring forth a harvest of justice and so create a world of peace and mutual care. If we who call ourselves the people of God fail to do this, the history of salvation shows that God has no problem taking this privilege away from us and giving it to someone else. Let us consider ourselves warned, and redouble our efforts to consent to God’s will and cooperate with his grace to create the world anew.

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