Reflection for Sunday, October 6, 2002: 27th week in Ordinary Time.

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Gillick, Larry, S.J.
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So as to be more receptive to the Word and the Eucharist, imagine Jesus standing in the midst of the Pharisees within a weed-woven garden. He looks with puzzlement at that which once was flowerful and plenteous. Against a fence spades, rakes and hoes lean, weathered by disuse.||While he is speaking, his listeners are getting red in the face from embarrassment and anger. Their clothing is getting dirty and prickers are sticking to their robes. Jesus is pricking their ears with another parable about a vineyard, but this time the parable is about those who have not tended well to the vineyard's care.|PRE-PRAYERING We are encouraged this week to prepare for the Eucharistic Liturgy by praying with our being God's choicest vine. This is not easy to imagine or pray for, but Christ has claimed all humanity as his garden. This is not only difficult a grace for which to pray, but even more, we pray with the reality of our relationships and responsibilities to the rest of the garden. God is waiting for the "produce" and they are we.|We pray with the call to be caring of our parts of his garden and our part in bringing life and fruitfulness in this world.|REFLECTION|Again today, we hear of God's "vineyard" as the central theme. Isaiah speaks out strongly at this, the beginning of his prophetic work. The First Reading begins with the prophet singing of his friend's vineyard and ends in a dramatic dirge.|His friend had planted the choicest vine and did all he could to make sure the vine would produce vintage grapes. Sour grapes were all he found when he went at harvest time. The prophet then speaks unpoeticly, but in plain talk to the people of Israel.|They were the vine and their land the vineyard. God's protection was the hedge, but God, through Isaiah pronounces a destruction of the vineyard with no more clouds of rain, the symbol of God's loving care to an agricultural nation. God had done all that was the loving thing to do and the people refused to respond justly to the Owner by being grateful and faithful.|The Gospel ends a string of parables and images about vineyards. Matthew's readers were familiar with this image, as it stands tall in the Major Prophets of their tradition. Here it is used in an allegory in which each element of the story is easily accounted for. Jesus is addressing these stories to the leaders of the Jewish people and they are getting the idea that Jesus is talking about them and their lack of care for the real spiritual growth of the nation.|The ancient prophets came as servants to harvest the crops and tend to the vine. They were beaten and killed. The son of the owner came and they took him outside and killed him. So the owner is going to turn the whole vineyard over to a different people who will produce the fruits of justice and faith. Those people are the non-Jews or pagans who will come from the outside and become the new beloved of God. The function of the prophets was not only to decry the present and foretell the future, but also to propose an alternative way of caring and responding to the presence of God. The tenants who killed the prophets did so in order to protect their places in their societies or cultures. The Pharisees in the time of Jesus were holding tightly to their status as religious leaders by concentrating on the external behavior and actions of the people. Jesus has not been proposing their overthrow, but that they return to the more religious interiors of the people.|Jesus is sent as the landowner's son into the vineyard of our humanity to cultivate the "below-ground"- the insideness of us as a people and each of us as a person known and cared for by God. The fruitfulness, the produce, the harvest is how that interior relationship of acceptance on our part, will flourish, externalize into acts of faith and justice.|The Jewish people were given land as a covenantal sign and fertility of that land as a sign of God's fidelity. With the Christ's coming onto our land, God's faithfulness is sealed as everlasting. The Pharisees were faithful men, but they saw their role as watchmen rather than tenants in charge of helping others grow.|We are the tenants of the new land called Jesus. We both cultivate and receive cultivation. We have been given a treasure within us and around us and asked to take good care of both; the cultivating and the cultivation of our inner selves. We are invited to reverence the prophets of our lives and days and to hear the alternatives to our ways which they offer. In our days, we have killed the uncomforting prophets who have asked us to face the implications of living in the land of Christ. If we have not killed them at least we turn them away or turn them off.|Being cultivated, turned over, dug up and asked to grow something new is not easy, but that was and is the message of Jesus The Prophet.|The Pharisees of these vineyard-parables were being cultivated and they continued to resist their own growth and retard the interior growth of others. It is from the depth of the "humus" the earth, the earthliness of ourselves that the produce of the Spirit rises in the actions for which Jesus called then and calls now. As the earth resists the plough, so does our humanity resist the tender-tending of the vineyard Owner. Be then patient as God has been with this "choicest vine."
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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