"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
October 2, 2011: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Isaiah 5:1-7
Synopsis: The vineyard is a frequent image of Israel in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah uses this image to describe God’s relationship with his people—and his judgment. God had cleared the land; planted “choice vines”, built a watchtower and surrounded it with a protective wall.
But the nation had squandered her blessings and neglected her responsibility to cherish what God had entrusted to her. Instead of the “sweet grapes” of justice, fidelity, peace and virtue, the house of Israel produced sour, “wild grapes” of immorality, corruption, idolatry and injustice. The reading was chosen for its obvious connection to the Gospel.
In the second reading St. Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians with a kindly exhortation to concentrate on the higher things of life: truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, courtesy and “anything worthy of praise.” Paul is probably thinking about the saying, “As a man thinks, so he is” (Prv 23:7). Ideas have consequences. The kind of things we think about sooner or later bear fruit in our actions.
The parable in this week’s Gospel is a straightforward allegory in which the “landowner” is God, the “tenants” are the religious leaders, the “servants” are the prophets and the “son” is Jesus. The priests and elders, to whom Jesus addressed this parable, clearly understood that he was talking about them. God had made them stewards of his kingdom, but they had betrayed his trust and would be judged accordingly.
Key verse: “O Lord of hosts, look down from heaven and see; take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted” (Ps 80:14-15).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing” (No. 755).”
Pope Benedict XVI: “A slogan that was popular some years back: ‘Jesus yes, Church no’, is totally inconceivable with the intention of Christ. We cannot have Jesus without the reality he created and in which he communicates himself. Between the Son of God-made-flesh and his Church there is a profound, unbreakable and mysterious continuity by which Christ is present today in his people” (Audience, March 15, 2006).
Life application: The parable in this week’s Gospel was not only a judgment against Israel’s leaders; it also serves as a warning to us. Jesus Christ established the Church as a “vineyard” that we must take good care of. As part of the vine we are to ‘bear much fruit’. Unproductive branches are cut off, gathered up and thrown into the fire (Jn 15:5-6). In order to be fruitful we have to cultivate the divine life in us by staying connected to the vine where we receive constant nourishment from Christ.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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