for the twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year
Is 5:1-7 - Ph 4:6-9 - Mt 21:33-43
by Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
The fruit of the vine
Is 5:1, Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2, He digged it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3, And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. 4, What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5, And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6, I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7, For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry!
Quite recently, while doing my groceries, I met a man whom I have known for some time. He told me then something that I had been ignorant of, that he had been an alcoholic, but now he was much better, having been sober for many years. He asked me this question, which at first seemed senseless: "Why did God (he spoke freely of God for he is a strong believer) create something as evil as wine?"
Aversion to wine on the part of a reformed alcoholic is quite understandable. But here the aversion is badly worded. For wine is not an evil thing. Above all, it is not an evil thing created by God. For God, indeed, never created anything evil: "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." (Gn 1:31) Obviously, God is right. All of his creations are good in themselves. If one of them seems evil to us, it is because man, and not God, put something evil in it.
Returning to the example of wine, it is the excess of wine that is evil, it is drinking too much wine that is evil. Wine is not evil and man must remain reasonable by not drinking too much. Let us note, for example, that Saint Benedict, in his Rule, is very prudent with respect to wine consumption: "We read that wine is not at all suitable to monks. However, since, in our day (he speaks of the sixth century), we cannot convince monks of this, let us agree, at least, to not drink to satiety, but in moderation, for wine can even bring down the wise." (chapter 40)
If man uses nature in an evil way, as in the case of wine, there follows a disordering of the proper working of the world: man gets drunk and loses his reason. In today's reading from the prophet Isaiah, it is, apparently, nature that disorders itself: the vine did not produce domestic grapes, but wild grapes. In fact, it is not nature that is disordered. For nature has its laws, which it does not change. Rather, it is an action by man on nature that provoked a disordering.
If Isaiah wrote those words concerning the vine, it is to tell us the history of the People of God through an allegory. Thus, he teaches us that "the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel" (Is 5:7). And, speaking of the Lord, Isaiah says: "He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed." (Is 5:7) Now all of this means that the People of God had not been faithful in awaiting the Messiah, the Sun of Justice, who was to ripen the heart of each man and woman, just as the physical sun is to ripen each grape on the Lord's vine. "What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?" (Is 5:4)
Ph 4:6, Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7, And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8, Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9, What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
There is neither vine nor wine in today's reading from Saint Paul. Nevertheless, if we look at the gospel and the words of Jesus, the basis of Saint Paul's teaching, and notably at the words of Jesus on the vine and the branches, we can find a relation, in today's second reading, with the wine and the vine of which the first reading and gospel spoke. Indeed, Jesus said: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (Jn 15:5)
If Jesus, who is the vine-stock, is in us, and if we, the branches, are in Jesus, then we and Jesus are alike: we are other Christs. Is being such not what Saint Paul asks of the Christians who are listening to him? Indeed, he asks them to imitate him and to do as he has done! He asks them to be like him as much as possible, as much as the grace of God permits them: "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you." (Ph 4:9)
Mt 21:33, Jesus said: «Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. 34, When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; 35, and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36, Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. 37, Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.' 38, But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' 39, And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40, When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?» 41, They said to him, «He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.» 42, Jesus said to them, «Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? 43, Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.»
In today's gospel, Jesus prophesies, thus completing what Isaiah had announced about eight centuries before. The Jewish people did not bear fruit, they were not the vine of the Lord and did not bear fruit in time for it to be harvested. On the contrary, since the Incarnation of the Word, since the Most Blessed Virgin Mary conceived the fruit of her womb through the action of the Holy Spirit, since then, it is Mary herself and all of the Church in her that is the true vine of the Lord, the eternal vine, that which bears fruit in the Holy Spirit, a fruit that is none other than the Christ, Yesterday and Today!
In today's communion, we will receive the fruit of the vine, Jesus, He who bears the Spirit of Love! May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary prepare our heart to receive this divine fruit!