October 4, 2020
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 or Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 19 or Psalm 80:7-15
Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14 (Is 5:7a)
One of our favorite getaways is a gorgeous vineyard and winery in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Not only do the owners produce marvelous wine, but they have also constructed several very comfortable cabins from which guests may enjoy a view of the fields that include several varieties of grapes, including my favorite, a truly extraordinary Cabernet Franc. I love sitting out on the cabin’s deck and gazing out on the stillness of the fields where the slow process of growth is taking place.
Selecting proper varieties of grapes for the climate, keeping careful track of their maturation, and determining the right time for harvest are but a few of the many tasks the vineyard owner must consider. At a family owned or managed vineyard, there is a remarkable personal relationship with the land and with the crop—a relationship that extends well beyond mundane tasks to include the wine that will be produced and savored.
We hear this relationship expressed poignantly and painfully in the “love song” recorded in today’s reading from Isaiah. The owner has lovingly built and cared for the vineyard expecting a fruitful harvest. Instead of grapes that will produce good wine, however, this vineyard has yielded useless “wild grapes.” God laments the bitter fruit produced by people who have been the object of divine love—bloodshed instead of justice, crying out instead of righteousness. “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” (Is 5:4)
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus draws on Isaiah’s song of the vineyard in his escalating confrontation with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. He transforms Isaiah’s song into an allegory in which the owner has turned over care of the vineyard to tenants. The story is a searing indictment of leaders who have failed in their care of God’s people, who have been deaf to the owner’s request for his share of a fruitful harvest, who have rejected and murdered the prophets, and who now plot to eliminate even the son. Jesus identifies himself as that Son, “the stone that the builders rejected” who “has become the cornerstone” (Mt 21:42, Ps 118:22, 23). And so, he declares, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (Mt 21:43).
Underlying the lamentation of Isaiah’s song and the foreboding in Jesus’ allegory is the abundant and faithful love of God—whether portrayed as Isaiah’s hands-on owner who lovingly cares for the vineyard or as Matthew’s absentee landlord who sends a series of messengers.
As God’s people, we are the vineyard that God has built and tended, not because we are deserving, but because God loves us. The Holy One has planted and nurtured us to produce the fruits of justice and righteousness (Is 5:7). We have received freely and now God is looking for a harvest that is expressed in concern for the least among us; affordable healthcare all; adequate income for every family; freedom from fear of violence and abuse at the hands of those in authority; and respect and equality for people of every race, language, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
God has entrusted to us the task of caring for the vineyard of creation. We are called to be stewards of the earth, ensuring respect for all its species and working for an equitable sharing of resources. Are we listening to the messengers who warn us of dangers to our planet from human greed and the destruction that it has caused? As tenants for only a short time in this vineyard, how are we managing the gifts that God has provided for the nurture and enjoyment of all?
Can we hear God’s song that affirms the depths of divine love for us? Can we join in the song that pours that same love out into the world as we embrace our stewardship of creation?
A Hymn for Today: “Stewards of Earth”
Perhaps more than any other individual, Omer Westendorf tirelessly promoted the renewal of congregational singing among North American Roman Catholics around the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and in the ensuing years of implementing active participation in singing the liturgy. In addition to his founding of a publishing company that provided resources for worshiping communities, he was himself the author of numerous texts for singing at worship.
This text by Omer Westendorf seems particularly apt in response to today’s Gospel reading and on this Sunday when many Christians remember Francis of Assisi and many churches also conclude a “season of creation,” celebrating God’s gifts and reflecting on our responsibility to care for the earth and all who inhabit it.
All praise to you, O Lord of all creation;
You made the world, and it is yours alone.
The planet earth you spun in its location
Amid the stars adorning heaven’s dome.
We lease the earth but for a life’s duration,
Yet for this life it is our cherished home.
With wondrous grace you clothed the earth in splendor;
With teeming life you filled the sea and land.
Instill in us a sense of awe and wonder
When we behold the bounty of your hand.
Then, when we hear the voice of bird or thunder,
We hear the voice our faith can understand.
To tend the earth is our entrusted duty,
For earth is ours to use and not abuse.
O gracious Lord, true source of all resources,
Forgive our greed that wields destruction’s sword.
Then let us serve as wise and faithful stewards
While earth gives glory to creation’s Lord.
Text: Omer Westendorf, 1916-1997. © 1984, WLP, a division of GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission.
Photo: Afton Mountain Vineyards, Virginia
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.