There is a lot going on in our readings this Sunday. Jesus in his parable is clearly alluding to our first reading. And our first reading reprises the themes of creation and fall that we have seen a lot recently. And I would like to focus on the first reading today. There are two points I would to look at. First is the image of the fall that is given to us. There is a definite pattern that perhaps we should be on the look out for in our own lives. The second thing for us to consider is the language of God’s judgment. It is important that we remember the whole of salvation history so that we understand this prophecy correctly.
The first point then: the pattern of the fall outlined in the first reading. Here we see the familiar idea that we are made to cooperate with God’s plan. God makes us to be the gardener’s or the vinedressers of his creation. We are supposed to produce good fruit. And this fruit, namely, ourselves following God’s commandments, this fruit is supposed to be fit to become wine, the matter for the Eucharist.
We use this image at every Mass. After the offertory, we pray “through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the earth and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.” Our lives are offered as the product of our fidelity to God’s plan. A gift and an offering whose whole purpose is to become the raw material for the Eucharist. It is through our obedience to the tasks God gives us that we become suitable for divinisation. This is the living out of our baptism.
When we don’t do this, the first reading spells out the consequences. God says that when God’s plan is ignored, God will allow the hedge, the wall to be knocked down, allowing the vine to be trampled. It will be overrun by thorns. Following it being overrun by thorns, there will be a drought, a lack of life-giving water. The end result of this will be the replacement of justice by violence, people of integrity will be replaced by people in distress and anguish.
It is worth praying on this sequence. There are any number of applications in modern life. If you substitute, say, a development of spiritual attention, or a cultivation of wisdom, or a dedication to truth, for the work of keeping the vineyard, then the pattern described here begins to become familiar.
For example, let’s take the cultivation of attention in prayer. If we don’t build a wall around our time of prayer, if we don’t protect it, ritualise it, it soon gets trampled by distractions. If we don’t make prayer a priority in our lives, then the time soon gets grown over by secondary busyness in our lives.
When this happens, we discover that what grows over this is not harmless, but weeds, weeds that block the sun and suck up the nutrients from the soil, and thorns that prick us and hurt us. The spiritual battle is never neutral.
When we allow other things to crowd out our prayer, our lives soon begin to spiral. I don’t mean everything falls apart immediately, but we begin to experience the thirst, the drought that is mentioned in the reading. We don’t know why things are not satisfying us. We don’t what is going wrong. We don’t where to go for answers. We are not sure any longer even how to ask the question. We experience a real desert of meaning and purpose.
This is the beginning of a dissolute life. This is that loss of integrity, the loss of a holistic view. And when this goes, what soon follows is loss of faith in reason, a loss of faith in each other. Social discourse soon degenerates into violence. We can see that more and more in our political discussions of important matters. So, I would encourage you to do your investigation. Substitute something important in your life into this pattern and reflect.
And that brings us to the final point. The first reading has God passing judgment and doing all this to his vine. As I said, we need to read this in full knowledge of Scripture so we understand God’s judgement properly.
As soon as we read this passage in light of our Gospel, one thing becomes very clear. Whatever judgment is being passed, God is not just telling us what happens, God is suffering it in Jesus Christ.
We read that the vineyard’s protective wall is gone: Christ is murdered outside the city gates. The vineyard is overrun by thorns: Christ wears a crown of thorns. There is no rain to water it: Christ cries out, “I thirst.” They look for justice but instead bloodshed: an innocent man, who is God, is crucified in a parody of religion and justice. We read there is a cry of distress: Jesus shouts, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”
God’s judgment then is first of all a warning. A wrong-way go back sign. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He is on the Cross because that is where we are. Our first act of faith is to remember his Cross as diagnosis of our condition. But the reason he is there is his great love for us. Let’s pray then that we can come to know our sins so that we can be healed and raised up by the God who loves us.