FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 5:1-7 | Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20 | Philippians 4:6-9 | Matthew 21:33-43
On this Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, you and me are being confronted with the questions: How do we carry out the responsibilities God has given to each of us? Do we bear the fruits of loving and serving God and each other – the fruits God expects of us? Or are we just a bunch of useless sour grapes?
Reginald and Grace, married for 5 years, had a quarrel and ended up giving each other the silent treatment. Two days into their mute argument, Reginald realized he needed Grace’s help. In order to catch a flight to Cebu for a business meeting, he had to get up at 5 a.m. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he wrote on a piece of paper, “Grace, please wake me at 5 a.m.” The next morning Reginald woke up only to discover Grace was already out of bed, it was 11 a.m., and his flight had long since left. He was about to find his wife and demand an answer for her failings when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. It reads, “It’s 5 a.m. Wake up!”
Serving in the second half of the eighth century, Isaiah (The Lord saves) drew a clear line between the sin of the people and the chaotic political situation in which they found themselves. They were caught between China expanding its presence in West Philippine Sea, a week by week oil price hike, steadily rising rice prices, and irregularities in Confidential and Intelligence Funds in government agencies budget. "Why was God abandoning his people?" the nation asked. Isaiah, in our First reading, answered with the song of the vineyard. Using poetic language, he presents God as a vineyard owner who has gone to great lengths to develop and care for his vineyard, which represents the people of Israel living in two separate kingdoms – the Northern Kingdom called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom called Judah. Justly, God expected that those he had chosen, planted, protected and lovingly cared for would produce good fruit. Yet, they yielded only what the prophet calls “sour grapes”. He then invites the people to judge between the vineyard owner and his vineyard. The judgement is obvious – the useless vineyard no longer deserves its owner’s attentions and should be left unattended and unprotected. God, in his infinite mercy and love, cares, guides, and protects us throughout our lives. But then, God also expects a fitting response to his gifts, and that response is to produce good fruits in life. Yet, so often and so surprisingly, we respond by producing "sour grapes."
Lilia Perez operates KAPATIRAN, a home for abandoned elderly in Imus City. Due to the evolving situation and uncertainty regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, there was one Saturday morning that there was very little to eat, but she called all the lolas, lolos, and staff together and prayed thanking God for the provision of food, even though the dining table was virtually empty. A few moments later someone knocked on the door. He told Lilia that God had led him to bring three sacks of rice and give it to the shelter. Then, another neighbor made a generous donation of food and groceries among others, to celebrate his birthday. She also realized that leafy greens from their very own garden had grown abundantly and can already be harvested for salads, ginataan or adobo. Lilia prays continually; gives thanks in all circumstances, and shows gratitude for all there is.
This same message, I think, is lived out by the apostle Paul in our Second reading. In his letter to the Philippians, he reveals the secret to a peaceful life. Peace of mind is something that we all want. We all want to be able to rest, to not have to worry, to feel free to enjoy life, family, friends, work, church, hobbies, entertainment, etc. We want to be able to enjoy ourselves and not be burdened down with worries that rob us of vigor, life, and purpose. Sometimes when we can't find peace of mind, we get depressed. We often get angry and lash out at God or someone else near to you. The crises in our society can make us reject God’s ways because we feel bitterness or anger towards God for not acting. In the extreme, this leads some to substance abuse and even worst, suicide. Such acts will surely yield sour grapes. Paul knew full well that the difficulties we experience in life can make us grow cold and bitter towards God. What do you do to get real peace? Well, the best place to start is with God. We need to develop a good and harmonious relationship with God, which the apostle Paul calls peace. He urged the faithful of Philippi to be thankful at all times. Simply put, gratitude can and should change us. In fact, Paul found himself rediscovering a sense of peacefulness in a most unusual place — He was thankful, even while sitting in a prison cell! If we will take all of our cares to God, and if we will be thankful, we will have peace that is beyond our comprehension, peace that comes from knowing that God loves us and has all things in His control.
Back when Paracale, Camarines Norte was founded by the Franciscans and was being settled, there was one particular spot where a large, dirt covered rock protruding in the middle of the trail. Carabao-drawn carts were broken on it and men tripped over it. Finally someone dug up the odd stone and rolled it off trail into a nearby river. The river was too wide to jump over, but people used the stone as a step to cross to the other side. It was used for years, until finally one settler built his hut near the river. He moved the odd stone out of the stream and placed it in his hut to serve as a doorstop. As years passed, railroads were built and towns sprang up. The old settler’s grandson went to Adamson University in Manila to study BS Geology. On a visit to his grandfather’s hut, the grandson happened to examine the old lump of stone and discovered within that lump of dirt and rock was the largest pure gold nugget ever discovered in Paracale. It had been there for three generations, and people never recognized its value. To some it was a stumbling stone to be removed. To others it was a stepping-stone, and to others it was just a heavy rock. But only the grandson saw it for what it really was — a lump of pure gold.
In the Gospel reading, Matthew, like Isaiah, employs the image of the vineyard to continue with his stinging critique of the chief priests and the elders. This time, he uses the story of workers to whom the landowner entrusted his vineyard. Just like in Isaiah, the landowner himself developed and secured the vineyard, and subsequently leased it to farmers. Yet, the very farmers who benefited from the owner’s work, chose to keep the entire produce for themselves and even killed the landowner’s servants. Showing unbelievable patience, God, sent his Son as representative, thinking the farmers would welcome Him. Eventually, intending to seize the vineyard for themselves, they even killed the owner’s son. The landowner is a patient man; he knows that the land needs time to give fruit. He is also patient with the farmers, waiting for them to yield fruits of conversion. Not even the murder of God's only Son could thwart His plan for his vineyard, his people. Instead, God drew on other resources. God's Kingdom would not only be taken from the Jewish leaders, a new people would emerge with God's blessing. Israel could not claim exclusive rights over its own God. Salvation was not a birthright or a guaranteed passage. No, God was pleased to create a new people, one of sinners and foreigners. By contrast they would welcome the Son and produce abundant harvest. Through the allegory in today's Gospel, the Church confronts you and me that there are just two categories of people in this time and age — those who have received Jesus and those who have rejected Him. The moment we start to think of the vineyard as our property, we start to destroy it. The landowner, however, has been so patient with us that he not only sends his Son, but he expects that we will not kill him. At the end of the day, to the bitter end, God believes in us!
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum