Reading 1: Isaiah 5:1-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Reading 2: Philippians 4:6-9
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43
The Witness group at CTU sponsors a monthly vigil at various sites around Chicago that memorializes victims of violence killed during the preceding month. In the context of prayer, the names and ages of those who have been killed are recited, day by day throughout the month. Most of the victims are men between the ages of 18 and 40. In some cases, the identity of the person remains unknown. It is quite sobering to hear this litany of the names of people who have lost their lives to the violence that so wounds the civic community of Chicago.
This Sunday’s Scripture readings suggest to us that God knows firsthand the pain and loss caused by violence. In the reading from Isaiah, the prophet likens God’s care for God’s people to the planter of a vineyard who spares no expense or effort. He does everything possible to construct and so tend the vineyard that it will produce an abundant and choice crop of grapes. Despite his best efforts, no good crop appears. This allegory bespeaks God’s frustration at the response of the covenant people — the people whom God loves so faithfully. God looks for justice but all he sees is violence and injustice: “He waited for judgment, but see, bloodshed!”
The scene is similar in the parable that Jesus addresses to the religious leaders of his own day. Jesus likens God to the vineyard owner who keeps sending his servants to the tenants to obtain his share of the crop. After these servants are beaten and even killed, the owner inexplicably sends them his own son, who meets with the same violent rejection. The story obviously reflects Jesus’ own experience in his ministry. He has faithfully proclaimed the Reign of God and has made God’s loving rule present in his words and deeds. He has given new life to people who had been drained of life. Yet he has consistently met with resistance and rejection from some of the religious leaders.
Interpretations of this gospel parable have at times caused tension in Jewish-Christian relations. In an age where the violence associated with anti-Semitism remains a sad reality, it is important to recognize that this story is not a warrant for supersessionism, that is, the idea that Christianity replaces Judaism. When the parable says that the owner of the vineyard will lease his vineyard to other tenants, this refers to the religious leaders, not to all Israel. As Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, the gifts and call of God to God’s beloved Israel are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
These Scripture readings challenge us to examine our own response to God. They summon us to become more aware of our tendencies toward violence in thought, word, and deed. Given the current climate of this nation’s political rhetoric, it is tempting to adopt an attitude toward others marked by stereotyping and even contempt. It is so easy to use our words to categorize and demean others. We have witnessed the deadly effects of such attitudes in the racism with which our country continues to grapple. Even toward people with whom we live and work, our disparaging words sometimes reflect a subtle form of violence.
In our interactions with others, we are responding also to God. God reaches out to us to establish and deepen a covenant relationship that is meant to be mutual. In so doing, God becomes vulnerable to our response. God knocks at the door of our hearts but does not break down that door. God does not even take away our capacity to say “no” to the peace that God offers us in Christ – the peace about which Paul speaks so eloquently in the reading from the Letter to the Philippians. Each of us is called to freely respond to God’s gracious love in our lives.
In the telling of this sobering parable, Jesus injects a word of hope by quoting a line from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Not even the most violent rejection could frustrate the saving love of God poured out in Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus, which we remember and celebrate every Sunday, is the deepest source of our hope – our hope for an enduring peace in a world scarred by violence. May our minds and hearts be suffused with the hope that Christ gives us.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Director of the Master of Arts in Theology Program