Let me sing for my well beloved a song of my beloved about his vineyard.
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up,
gathered out its stones, planted it with the choicest vine, built a tower
in its midst, and also cut out a winepress therein.
He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
"Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, please judge between me
and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that
I have not done in it? Why, when I looked for it to yield grapes, did it
yield wild grapes? Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will take away its hedge, and it will be eaten up. I will break down
its wall of it, and it will be trampled down. I will lay it a wasteland.
It won't be pruned nor hoed, but it will grow briers and thorns. I will
also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it."
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and
the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for justice, but, behold,
oppression; for righteousness, but, behold, a cry of distress.
Brothers and sisters, have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known
to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard
your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers
and sisters, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever
things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there
is any praise, think about these things. The things which you learned,
received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will
be with you.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Hear another parable. There was a man
who was a master of a household, who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about
it, dug a winepress in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and
went into another country. When the season for the fruit drew near, he
sent his servants to the farmers, to receive his fruit. The farmers took
his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent
other servants more than the first: and they treated them the same way.
But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, 'This is
the heir. Come, let's kill him, and seize his inheritance.' So they
took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When
therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?"
They told him, "He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will
lease out the vineyard to other farmers, who will give him the fruit in
its season." Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures,
'The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the
corner. This was from the Lord. It is marvelous in our eyes?'
Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and
will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruits."
longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop
Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic
of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
** Scripture texts in this
work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible
and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
|We live at a very
momentous time. It seems inevitable that our nation is about to go to war.
But there is a way we could avoid this war. Saint Paul, 2000 years ago,
put it so clearly in writing to the church at Philippi. He says,
ďPut into practice what you have learned from me about Jesus and the love
of Jesus. The God of peace will be with you and you will have a peace
that surpasses all understanding.Ē
So we could have peace,
if we really decided to put into practice what Paul taught and what he
had learned from Jesus. Todayís scriptures, if we listen to them
carefully, tell us so powerfully about the love of God, the love that came
to be fully realized in Jesus, who allowed himself to be tortured and put
to death, but then offered that death on the cross as a sign of the covenant
of Godís everlasting love for all of us and, also, as a way to bring Godís
love and peace into our world.
All of the scriptures,
today, speak about that unlimited and unconditional love of God.
In the first lesson today,
Isaiah was speaking to the people of his time and he was telling them about
Godís love for them. He explained it in what he calls a song. He
says, ďI want to sing for my beloved the love song of my beloved about
the vineyard.Ē God loves this vineyard. And Isaiah composes a song that
describes how God took such care to make this vineyard, to bring forth
beautiful fruit. God was constant in care for that vineyard. He dug
it up, cleared the stones, planted the choicest vines, built a watch tower,
hewed out a wine press, and then looked for a crop of good grapes.
But the good grapes did
not come, only sour grapes, wild grapes. And Isaiah went on to explain
that this vineyard is the people of Israel, the people of Judah.
And God wanted so much for that vineyard to bring forth good fruit. But
as Isaiah says, ďGod looked for justice, but found violence and bloodshed.
God looked for righteousness, but heard cries of distress from the poor.Ē
The people of Judah failed to respond to that love of God and so the result
was violence, injustice, oppression, killing, death.
In the Gospel lesson
today, Jesus is talking about this same passage from Isaiah when he tells
the religious leaders, the priests and the Pharisees, the parable about
a vineyard -- itís the same message that Jesus is talking about. At the
end of the parable, you hear Matthew say that they understood that Jesus
was talking about them, about the house of Israel at that time.
God had poured forth
such tremendous love on them and that love goes all the way through history,
from the time that God first called the people out of Israel and established
the covenant with them. God loved them, poured forth love upon them down
through the centuries. And Jesus describes it by using the symbol of a
vineyard. Only, this time, God sends the prophets to speak to them and
to turn them away from violence and injustice and hatred. But they
reject all the prophets. They wonít listen to the message of Godís love.
But God doesnít stop loving them.
Finally, in the parable,
the owner sends his own son. And, of course, we easily understand
that this is Jesus, as Jesus puts it himself in the Gospel. He reminds
them of the stone which the builders rejected has become the keystone.
Thatís a very famous Psalm. The religious leaders understood that
that keystone, the cornerstone, was the messiah. Jesus was saying,
ďI am that son that God has sent,Ē because Godís love is unlimited.
It was foolish, you would
think, that in the parable, after the owner had sent servants twice and
they had been stoned and so on, that the owner would have done anything
except send his son. But the owner, symbolizing God, isnít logical. Symbolizing
God, the owner has unlimited love and is willing to give up even his son
as he tries to show that God never stops loving.
Now what if we were to
understand, as we should, that now we, who are the church, we are that
vineyard, we are the house of Israel, we are the house of Judah, that God
through Jesus and through the gospels has sent us the message of unlimited
love, of unconditional love, absolute goodness being poured forth upon
us who are the church.
We canít listen to these
passages and just think that they refer to thousands of years ago.
No, God is speaking to us now, giving us the same message that Isaiah proclaimed,
the same message that Jesus proclaimed when he was here. Itís the same
message -- God is offering love to us, unlimited, unconditional love --
and is asking us to respond to that love by becoming loving people.
God looks for justice.
God looks for righteousness. Will God find it now or will God find violence
and bloodshed and killing?
You see, when we donít
respond to the love of God, when we donít take it in and let that love
of God transform us and make us into fully loving people, when we spurn
the love of God, then our humanness unravels. The whole situation keeps
getting worse and worse and we turn to violence, we turn to bloodshed.
Just at the people of Israel did. Just as those scribes and Pharisees did
when they decided now we will have to kill him. If we donít respond to
Godís love, there will be violence, bloodshed and injustice.
When I think about the
threat to go to war, I realize that we really are rejecting the way of
God. I have to think about what this is going to do to us and also, not
to President Hussein, but the people of Iraq who will experience the violence
that we will pour forth upon them. It was proclaimed so well by one
of our military heroís, Senator John McCain, who, during the Vietnam War,
bombed the city of Hanoi many times until his plane was shot down.
He was terribly injured and then was tortured and spent 7 years in prison.
He survived and was released and is a hero for us. But remember what
he said about himself. He said, ďI hated the people of Vietnam, even
before they took me captive. I hated them, because it was my hatred
that enabled me to be devoted to their complete destruction. I hated them
so that I could destroy them. Otherwise, I could never have continued
to do what my human instincts wanted me to do, and turn away in disgust.Ē
So he had to destroy his humanness by hating them.
And thatís what we will
have to do. If weíre going to kill, weíre going to have to learn
to hate. It wonít just destroy others; it will destroy us as well.
When you hate, you spurn the love of God, you spurn this unconditional,
unlimited love that God pours forth upon us and you destroy yourself by
rejecting Godís love and turning to hate.
What a tragedy that we
would do that to ourselves.
For the past couple of
weeks, an image keeps coming back to me from one of my visits to Iraq.
I know I told you this before, but it keeps coming back to me, so I have
to speak about it again. At the time, I was in Baghdad, and was visiting
at a seniors home, where these were poor people who were kept in a home
by the government. During the time of the sanctions, the elderly
are very vulnerable, as are the tiny children. And these people were
suffering, but they were getting some care at least. But after we
left that place, we were walking back out in the street and a crowd of
people came toward us. Leading the crowd was a little boy with his
grandmother. They came up to speak to us. And I looked in the
face of the little boy. He looked to be about 8 years old and I found
out later that he was 11, but he was so malnourished that he was only about
the size of an 8 year old kid. But I looked at his face and the whole
right side of his faced had been ripped off and it was one big scar and
he was blind in the other eye. He told us what had happened
when he was 3 years old. A bomb had hit near his home where he and
a playmate were playing. The other little youngster was killed immediately,
but he was so badly injured. And his reason for coming to meet us
was simply to tell us, ďPlease go back to the United States and tell your
government to stop killing us.Ē
But we havenít stopped
killing them and now weíre going to kill them with our bombs again. It
will be far worse than the last time, when we bombed for 42 days and 42
nights, 24 hours every day with 88,500 tons of bombs. Now, it will be even
worse. We will be killing, not just the people of Iraq, but, in an
abstract way, we will be killing little children like that boy who came
and pleaded, ďStop killing us.Ē
Isnítí it necessary for
us to listen deeply to todayís scriptures where God is telling us about
Godís unlimited love for us and how God wants us to respond to that love
by learning to love others and to reject hatred, to reject violence, to
reject killing. Jesus, by giving himself over to death in that total
act of love for us, transforms hatred into love and enemies into friends.
We could do the same thing, if we rejected violence, rejected killing and,
instead, reached out to the people of Iraq as brothers and sisters in Godís
human family; if we really made an effort to negotiate rather than just
give ultimatums that say, ďTake or leave it;Ē if we really respected them
as people and we were willing to share the oil that they have, not just
to hoard it for ourselves or to make it all for us, but to allow everybody
in the world to have access to that oil in a fair and just way.
If we really reached
out in love, we could end this crisis quickly. Thatís what Saint
Paul is telling us, ďPut into practice what you have learned from me, what
I passed on to you, the message of Godís love, the message of Jesus.
Then, the God of peace will be with you and that God of peace through us
will bring peace into our world.Ē
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.