Sunday Scripture Readings




Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80;

Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

OUR GOOD NEWS: God's overwhelming expressions of caring love for us demand our suitable response through faithful service. In ancient times, "friend of the bridegroom" had definite responsibilities during courtship, before serving as best man on the wedding day. He mediated quarrels between the lovers, pleaded his friend's case with the girlfriend, and appealed to the public on his behalf (first reading). The "song" he sings about love is a parable/allegory inviting listeners' verdict in a fictitious legal case. He first stirs up interest in a farmer (lover) "courting" a vineyard (beloved). The man showers care on his property, sparing no labor or expense. Everything anticipates a wonderful harvest. Suddenly, sad chords in a minor key: Every grape was sour! Isaiah spoke out for the wronged lover, inviting public expressions of indignation at betrayal by the young woman. Bystanders could only approve his judgment of punishment. Let the useless vineyard fall back into its original wild state! Then, the unexpected punch line: God is the lover, his Chosen People the beloved! Isaiah's audience convicted themselves! The final sentence specifies their unfaithful disobedience as social injustice. Isaiah's play on words can only be approximated in translation: "He looked for the light of justice - but found the night of bloodshed; for compassion - but found oppression!" Like Isaiah, Jesus told a fable about a vineyard and invited audience judgment. Here, ungrateful, murderous tenants replaced uncooperative vines. He then turned the crowd's stern verdict calling for rejection and destruction through telling quotations of Psalm 118. Next came a pronouncement of doom more terrible in its finality than any Old Testament prophet's. The audience, "chief priests and elders of the people," constituted a formal assembly of official Judaism. These heard Jesus's rejection of the Synagogue in favor of the Church. Historical Israel was being replaced by the new Israel of Jesus' founding. Details of the story heighten its tragic message. Steps taken by the owner - planting, hedging, building winepress and guard tower - attest careful concern to do everything possible. Unlike the first reading, the vineyard represented God's Kingdom, with tenants standing for his Chosen People. These preferred to get on their own what God offered as a gift, conditioned upon faithful service. Blinded by totally unjustified hatred and greed, these foolishly bring certain doom upon themselves through brutal efforts to break away from the absent master. Application of Psalm 118:22-23 introduces a second image: the Church, the interim expression of final-age Kingdom, as a stone building. That Jesus is "head of the corner" affirms his essential role in the salvation of God's people. He is either the cornerstone, placed at the corner of the foundation where two rows of stones come together, or the key- (cap-) stone completing the arch and supporting the entire structure - in either case, absolutely indispensable. The parable teaches that we Christians can't bask in privilege, waiting around to enter heaven; we're called to deeds of love, including personal and corporate witness that invites others into God's kingdom.

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