The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

Reflection & Dialogue: Fill your minds with everything that is noble.

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (Isaiah 5:1-7). The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel. This text was originally a love song, which then became a parable. Israel was the Lord’s vineyard, which he loved beyond measure. God is the friend who had the vineyard, and paid very special attention to it, planting choice vines in it, even a watchtower in the middle of it, to detect and ward of enemies, beasts and such likes. He dug a wine vat there too and expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded only wild grapes. Then God, or the poet-prophet, questions Jerusalem and Judah as to what he will do with his vineyard, and answers his own questions. He will destroy it, knock down its wall so that it is trampled on, and become overgrown by briars and thorns. Immediately after this we are reminded again that the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel. They are God’s pleasant planting. The gifted poet prophet that was Isaiah ends his poetic composition with a memorable statement, containing a play on Hebrew words in the original: God “expected justice (mishpat) but saw bloodshed (mispach); righteousness (sedeqah) but heard a cry of distress (saaqah).

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 79[80]). The vineyard of the Lord is the House of Israel.

Second Reading (Philippians 4:6-9). The God of peace will be with you. In this beautiful reading Paul begins by exhorting the members of the Christian community so dear to him not to have any worry, and assures them that the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard their hearts and minds. They are not to worry about anything but to make their requests known to God in prayer and thanksgiving. Peace of mind and heart in matters of faith and believing were a central issues for Paul, as is clear from his prayer for the Christians of Rome (Romans 15:13): “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. Then, as a parting thought (“finally”), he strongly exhorts the Philippian Christians to have a very positive attitude towards life, cultivating the positive virtues – to fill their minds with everything that is true, good, everything that is noble, good and pure, everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. These are virtues and traits that the non-believing community would respect. Belief in the next world does not take believers from appreciating and living the values and culture of human society. That is the teaching, Paul says, that he gave to his churches, teaching the practice of which, he assures the Philippians, would have the God of peace with them

The Gospel (Matthew 21:33-43). He will lease the vineyard to other tenants. This reading is the continuation of that read in last Sunday’s gospel. In both Jesus issued a warning to the chief priests and the elders of the people, and through them to Israel itself, and in today’s reading in the form of a parable. It is a parable about a vineyard, and connected with, if not founded on, that found in today’s first reading from the book of Isaiah. The parable is about s landowner who planted a vineyard, carefully attended to it, and then leased it to tenants, expecting due return at vintage time. The servants he sent twice to collect the produce were ill-treated by the tenants, some of them being killed. He finally sent his son, expecting that he would be respected. The tenants regarded his as the heir, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When Jesus questions the chief priests and elders as to what the owner of the vineyard would do to these tenants when he comes himself, they reply that he would bring these wretches to a wretched end, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who would deliver the produce to him when the season arrives. It would appear that they made no connection between the substance of the parable and the text of Isaiah. Neither does Jesus, who, however, mentions the text of Psalm 117(118):22-23, a text regarded as messianic and used in many New Testament passages. Jesus himself is the stone rejected by the builders (in this case by the priests the elders of the people), but made the keystone of the building that was the new Christian community at the resurrection. Matthew’s text makes clear the implications of this Scripture text: the kingdom of God will be taken from the priests, the elders and the Jewish people, and given to a people who will produce fruit fitting the kingdom of God. The Church, the new community of believers, is probably what is intended. As is usual with him, Matthew stresses the fruit to be borne, with good works.

  1. Reflection & Dialogue: Fill your minds with everything that is noble.

What St Paul has to say in today’s reading from the letter to the Philippians presents abundant material for reflection on dialogue between the Church and today’s society. The accusation is occasionally made that belief in the other world, with the Christian emphasis on this being the one thing necessary, prevents believers from paying proper attention to this world’s affairs or the respect due to the dignity of the human person and an understanding of matters of culture arising from this. It was occasionally expressed in the maxim that many Christians were so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good. What Paul has to say in today’s reading should be sufficient answer to such an accusation. From the point of view of Christian virtue and life in Christ according to the Gospel, the Church and all believers have the maxim given by Jesus: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. There is here really no upper limit, in matters pertaining to the response to the Gospel.

                  But, in a sense, matters are no different with regard to matters of human living. What Paul has to say in today’s second reading was part of his teaching to the churches, and was for him not just an aside. It covers all aspects of life, what one might call the profane as well as the religious. Paul’s exhortation to believers to fill their minds with everything that is noble, true, good, that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise could hardly be better put by a moral philosopher. Christians are called to become involved in all aspects of the human experiment, all forms of culture, literature, the arts and so forth.

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