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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

27th SUNDAY (A) October 4, 2020

Isaiah 5: 1-7; Philippians 4: 6-9; Matthew 21: 33-43

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

Happy St Francis Day to our Franciscan brothers and sisters. Inspired by Francis and our Pope Francis, may we be more reverent towards the world God has created for us.


In our Lectionary, which provides the Sunday readings, the Isaiah text is printed to look like the poem it was in the original. In rich imagery, a friend of God speaks on God's behalf to us. But what starts as a love song turns discordant at the end.

The first part of the reading describes a careful preparation for a vineyard. Then the vintner asks, "What more could I do?" Having heard the preparation of the vineyard, we would answer, "Nothing more!" We cannot ignore this initial message of the poem. God has shown tender love for the people and has prepared them well: "...spaded, planted and cleared." Which makes us ask: Do we notice God’s loving care in our lives? God is not aloof, but is nurturing and giving us every opportunity for fruitfulness – for us individuals, but also for the believing community, the church.

God sounds like a parent who, after spending years giving an offspring the best family environment and education possible, learns that the child has gotten in trouble. “What more could I have done to prevent this?”, the parent laments. The narrator’s voice returns at the end of the passage to make sure there are no doubts about the application of this story. “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel... God looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!”

In Isaiah’s parable, the vineyard itself is a disappointment – it “yielded wild grapes.” Now where did these come from since it was planted with “the choicest vines” and lovingly tended? The owner certainly didn’t ignore this vineyard. It seems to be the vineyard’s doing. This is a parable and in such stories, even a vineyard can be cantankerous and rebellious. It’s the vineyard’s fault, the prophet tells us.

An Israelite could not hear a story about a vineyard without knowing that the vineyard was an often-used metaphor for the house of Israel. The people knew that God had chosen, planted, tended and promised to watch over them. Since they would know the parable applied to them, Isaiah invites “the inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah” to respond to God’s questioning lament, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?” Failure to yield good fruits was not due to God’s holding back, or stinting on the vineyard. The people are invited to pass judgment and the judgment applies to them.

In Isaiah justice means fair and equitable relationships in a community that has, as its base, the justice of God. This justice is expressed through honest dealings with one another; it fails when a more powerful class of people takes advantage of the weaker. If we are in good relationship with God, then from that relationship will come fidelity in doing the works God expects of us: works of justice in the community. Such should be the characteristics of a people “under God.” And of a nation that claims to be “under God.” The prophet suggests that failure of justice/righteousness will lead to disaster for God's people.

The love poem ends with a powerful indictment that its audience must apply to itself. It stops short of actually pronouncing the judgment, implying there still is time to change and conform to God's ways. As always, you can hear the God of love, who raised up a people out of slavery, reminding the people what is expected of them if they are truly to be God's people. They must be a just people, unlike the people of other gods. In their midst the poor are to be cared for and justice is to prevail – a sure sign that this nation has a different kind of God who sees to the needs of the poor, the orphaned and the widowed.

We have our modern Isaiahs, powerful prophetic voices to lead us in God's ways. Notice, for example, how frequently our Pope and bishops have spoken out against violence in the world, the arms trade, on behalf of the poor, for the care of creation, etc. For example, as we draw closer to the national elections, here is a statement made by the American Catholic bishops at their national meeting in 1998:

“As citizens in the world’s leading democracy, Catholics in the United States have special responsibilities to protect human life and dignity and to stand with those who are poor and vulnerable. We are called to welcome the stranger, to combat discrimination, to pursue peace and to promote the common good. Catholic social teaching calls us to practice civic virtues and offers us principles to shape participation in public life. We cannot be indifferent to or cynical about the obligations of citizenship. Our political choices should not reflect simply our own interests, partisan preferences or ideological agendas, but should be shaped by the principles of our faith and our commitment to justice, especially to the weak an vulnerable.”

We church members call ourselves, “God’s people,” the “vineyard of the Lord of hosts.” The Isaian parable should certainly speak and challenge us. We trace our faith life to its origins in God, who planted the seed of the Christ-life in us; nourished it by the scriptures and sacraments and gave us prophetic witnesses, parents and teachers. God has also protected that life within us when it was stressed and tested; renewed it when we wandered and caused it to grow at the most unexpected times. So, the first thing we do at this Eucharist is remember with gratitude and thanks our caring and nourishing God.

But we have to ask the Isaian question too. After all God has done for us, what fruits will God find at vintage time? “God looked for judgment, but see bloodshed! For justice, but hark the outcry.” We “people of God,” we “the vineyard of the Lord” – do our poor receive preferential option; is there discrimination in our assemblies against the aged, disabled, gays, women, the undocumented, etc? Are our laity involved in decision making? Is there open disclosure of financial matters? Are the home-bound made to feel part of our community? Do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned?

The table set before us is a meal for all, for the rich, the poor, the powerful and the weak to eat the same food. The life of Jesus is given to us today to form us into a community that puts the usual ways of judging aside. We have to be sure to practice in our lives what we do at this Eucharist. If there are no distinctions here in our worshiping community, then there are no distinctions outside.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/100420.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

[The Lord of Hosts] looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!

--Isaiah 5:7

In Isaiah 5, the vine is a metaphor for the people of Judah and because of their social injustice, they clearly failed God’s intention and threaten its destruction. Fast forward eight centuries to Jesus’ time and Matthew writes of another vineyard where God expects a harvest of righteous fruits and will not tolerate injustice. Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and elders and, through the story, tells them because of their injustice the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and "given to a people that will produce its fruit (Matthew 21:43).

Fast forward again to the present time. The 2019 U.N. Human Development Report argues that the unrest and protests in the world are about more than disparities in income and wealth, but are driven, also, by inequalities in opportunity and power that leads to lack of access to jobs, healthcare, education and social mobility. Pope Francis has identified inequality as a moral problem, saying in Evangelii Gaudium, "Inequality is the root of social ills." The vineyard again is in danger of being destroyed because of social injustice.

Now, is the time of reckoning. The Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church #83 says that the human conscience is called to recognize and fulfill the obligations of justice and charity in society. But, more is needed than just fulfilling obligations.

Pope Francis provides this wisdom, "In every age, humanity experiences injustices, moments of conflict and inequality among peoples. In our own day these difficulties seem to be especially pronounced. Even though society has made great progress technologically, and people throughout the world are increasingly aware of their common humanity and destiny, the wounds of conflict, poverty and oppression persist, and create new divisions. In the face of these challenges, we must never grow resigned. . .we know that there is a way forward, a way that leads to healing, mutual understanding and respect. A way based on compassion and loving kindness" (11/29/17). When you come to the vineyard to clear the social injustice that has grown there, bring all of your gifts and your love.

To learn more about inequality around the world and what can be done to narrow the staggering economic inequality that so afflicts us in almost every aspect of our lives, explore inequality.org, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,

Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Finally, the owner of the vineyard sent his son to [the tenants of the vineyard], thinking, "They will respect my son." But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, "This is the heir. Come let us kill him and acquire his inheritance." They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him."

Reflection:

Jesus is telling us something about God that we need to hear. God doesn't give up on us, even when we have turned away from God. God is even willing to risk looking foolish in our eyes, willing to come again and again to us. God's love doesn't diminish, even when we reject God or live lukewarm lives of faith.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Is there someone in my life who has been a persistent voice urging me to change?

  • Is it possible in that person’s persistence, God is telling me to make some necessary changes in my life?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Timothy Hartford, Jr #0172431 (On death row since 11/19/2010)
  • Tony S. Summers #0395658 (3/22/2011)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C

  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Domincales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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