Today’s Gospel Acclamation can serve as a key to help unlock for us what today’s readings are saying: “I have chosen you from the world, says the Lord, to go and bear fruit that will remain.” Like the vineyard owner both in the first reading and in the Gospel, God has provided for each of us all that we need to grow and bear abundant fruit for him. We shall see throughout the week that the fruit which he looks for is humility, repentance, love for our neighbor, and praise and thanksgiving to him.
Sadly, as Isaiah explains, what God too often finds is that his people are not bearing good fruit but are bringing forth “wild grapes.” Rather than judgment and justice, he sees bloodshed and hears “the outcry.” “Bloodshed” here can stand for all the ways in which we do violence to one another as we struggle to assert our own will and to acquire power and possessions. “The outcry” is the cry of those who have been abused, oppressed, or marginalized by our self-focused pursuit of comfort and security.
Why have things turned out so badly? The word “wild” gives us a clue. What God finds are not the grapes he originally planted, but wild grapes. This could only happen if the grapevines which he planted have been crossed with vines from outside his vineyard – “wild” grapevines.
Jesus teaches more about vines in a passage from John’s Gospel: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5). Jesus is the source of our life. Remaining in him, taking his word as our direction, and making use of all the graces which he provides for us, is the way to have true life and to bring forth much good fruit. However, there are many other things which promise us life. The world tells us that wealth, fame, power, and other such measures of success will bring us life. These things are not evil in themselves, but if we begin to make the attainment of such things our primary goal rather than following Jesus, then we are taking into our hearts the contamination of “wild” grapes, and our fruit will not be what God created us to bear.
As we ponder the Gospel for today, we see how badly things can turn out when we allow ourselves to take in the “wild” contamination of the world’s ways. The tenant farmers somehow come to the delusional idea that they can take possession of the vineyard by beating and killing the owner’s servants, and eventually even killing his son. This passage is especially striking, where they say, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” How disordered this kind of thinking is! How could one ever expect to take ownership of something by killing the son of the owner? And yet this is how the world thinks: Come, let us refuse to follow God. Let us proclaim ourselves to be gods, and then we can take the place of God. As both the first reading and the Gospel teach us, this way of proceeding will only end in disaster.
In the second reading, St. Paul teaches us how to resist being contaminated by the ways of the world: “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.” In other words, we must be wise about what “fertilizer” we use to “feed” our grapevines. Do we turn to the news and entertainment that the world offers, the social media feeds, the popular music, the latest bestselling books, the newest sensational TV series, the loudest talk show hosts, the blockbuster movies? While we do not need to completely avoid all these things, they cannot be the main source of spiritual nourishment for us, or our grapes will certainly turn “wild.” Instead, as Paul urges us, we need to take in a daily diet of that which is true, that which turns our hearts and minds to God and inspires us to serve him and love our neighbor.
A good way to start each day is given to us in the Psalm. We can begin each morning with a prayer similar to this one: “Once again, O LORD of hosts, / look down from Heaven, and see; / take care of this vine, / and protect what your right hand has planted, / the son of man whom you yourself made strong. / Then we will no more withdraw from you; / give us new life, and we will call upon your name. / O LORD, God of hosts, restore us; / if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.”
A prayer like this one, which acknowledges God as our Creator and Protector, and ourselves as repentant sinners in need of his restoration and salvation, is very good spiritual “food” with which to begin our day and nourish ourselves spiritually so that we will spend the day bringing forth “good fruit” for the Lord.
Whom have I oppressed by my self-focused pursuit of comfort and security? What can possibly happen to me if I allow myself to take in the “wild” contamination of the world’s ways? What is the “fertilizer” that I use to “feed” my grapevines so that they don’t become “wild”?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.