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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Vineyard of the Lord

I have been pondering this Sunday's readings, and as always I respond, in varying degrees, at first to each reading individually. Isaiah 5: 1-7 is the song of the vineyard, and in it, the house of Israel is likened to a vineyard that, despite the best of care, produces only wild grapes.  The vineyard is left for destruction and ruin:
Yes, I will make it a ruin:  It shall not be pruned or hoed, but will be overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to rain upon it.  The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, the people of Judah his cherished plant;  he waited for judgement, but see bloodshed!  For justice but hark, the outcry! (6-7)
The justice of the Lord is a terrifying thing, revealing what we would rather not know about ourselves, and to endure it is to be refined and renewed.  To refuse it is to allow the wild grapes to crowd out the life of God in you, to evict your soul from your body and be reduced to a mere wild creature. In the Song of the Vineyard, the Lord mercifully withholds his care of the vineyard, to reveal that there is no true life here. The language is dire, a response to the Lord is urgent, our very soul depends on it.

But do not despair, for there is more to you than your failures! The responsorial Psalm ( taken from Psalm 80) is a cry to the Lord to restore His people, and they will no more turn away from Him!  And it is spoken with a confidence in the Lord, that though they are enduring great trials, they know that they are still His chosen people. "Give us new life, and we will call upon your name."

The Gospel from Matthew is yet another parable about the vineyard:

Matthew 21:33-43
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: 
"Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
puts a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous that the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them thinking ,
'They will respect my son.'
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
'This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.'
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
What will the owner do to those tenants when he comes?"
"He will put those wretched men to a wretched death,
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times."
Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
and by the Lord has this been done
and it is wonderful to our eyes.
Therefore I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken from you
 and given to a people that will produce fruit."
And of course it picks up on Isaiah's theme of the vineyard.  A theme that will allow those who he is telling it to to pronounce what the owner of the vineyard should rightfully do to those wretched tenants, and, if they have the heart to hear this parable they will recognize themselves as individuals and, collectively as a people, the children of God. God has given them many chances to produce fruit, but he will give them up to their own wretchedness if they do not hear his voice with their heart, and repent like the Psalmist!  His kingdom will prevail, without you if you so choose.

These vineyard parables that Jesus has been telling the past few Sundays have sunk deeply into my soul, they have gently stirred up the envy, resentment and fear that have become tenants in my heart.  And these tenants hold me back, or provoke me to respond to situations in ways that can never produce good fruit (but they do produce some fruit, it is I who lack the will to determine if it is fruit that is of the Lord or not).

And unless the Lord, in his merciful justice, allows them to be stirred up, I might never recognize them as evil and needing to be purged from my soul. I now must choose to act, to allow the Lord to reclaim what is his.  Even when I am made aware of these tenants, I am weakened and powerless to demand that they leave on my own. I cannot bear to face their devastation in my soul. I cannot endure in my struggle against them.  Here is where these vices, now stirred up to my consciousness begin to bring down despair and discouragement.  I am the  wretched one who gave entry to the vices. Vices that have taken the choice plants that the Lord has sown and degraded them to wild grapes. They cause me to doubt that I would ever be capable of producing the type of fruit that God demands  They murmur that I will  be utterly destroyed if I allow the wild grapes in my soul to be rooted out.  If I allow the owner to rightfully access his vineyard!

And, I have learned, that I will be. I will have to die to the false identities, that are protected through envy and fear. The vices I have nurtured have diminished me, killing my soul, and are so integrated in my heart that upon the coming of the Lord I quake with fear because I know what will be found, ruins,desolation and rotted fruit.  And I know that the only remedy is the painful uprooting of the wild grapes.  The hedges that were meant to protect the choice vines are now protecting the wicked tenants, and they will need to be torn down. I will have to live in the briers and thorns that have overtaken my vineyard, exposed, to fully know that I am not a mere tenant in my soul haunted body.  I can now cry out to the Lord as the Psalmist does:

 "Give us new life, and we will call upon your name."

Hope is kindled, because in the merciful justice of God, he has allowed the enemies of my soul to be stirred up, and revealed.  But reviving me is a grueling battle, and I am tossed between self-justification and self-condemnation.

Paul's words to the Philippians now rain down just enough refreshment for my soul, they encourage me to open my eyes and see, see with the mind and heart of Christ!  To open wide my heart, and let go of my fear!  The temporal defeats are only that, temporary.  The ultimate victory is assured, and we can see the fruits of them already if we reach out to the Lord in earnest and honest prayer!

Phil.4: 6-9

Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.

God's merciful justice can be extraordinarily hard to endure, and there sometimes seems to be no point,only defeat.  Ask the Lord for what you need today to endure in the struggle, know that there is more to gain in enduring in God's mercy than a halo and wings.  The messiness of the moment are parts of the masterpiece.  But today is the day, do not let the unlawful tenants in your soul have one more day, for the Lord is coming.

Peace, Heidi

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