The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fruit of the vine

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43
During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, at the Preparation of the Gifts, the priest holds the chalice filled with wine and praises God with these words: “Blessed are you, Lord, God of creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.” And the People of God respond, “Blessed be God forever.”
Since the priest is acting during the Mass in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ, this is a very profound mystery to consider. It is together with Christ that we offer our gifts to God and praise the Father. It is a participation in the very life, death, and resurrection of Christ, so that we may go out and offer our very lives—the work of human hands. But at the same time, all we do, say, or think in the name of Christ is God-given grace, the fruit of the vine. All that is good which we offer to God was first given to us. Through Christ, we bear fruit for the Kingdom of God as stewards of the divine mysteries.
This theme is present throughout Scripture, but perhaps nowhere more explicitly than in John 15, when Jesus tells his disciples on the night he was betrayed: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. … Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them bear much fruit, because apart me from you can do nothing” (John 15: 1, 4-5). The point is clear: we must remain connected to, or tapped into, the life-giving force (the “sap” as it were) of Christ the True Vine, to bear an abundant harvest of fruit—our good works—in building up the Kingdom of God, God’s vineyard which he gives to us.
Once again, as in recent weeks, in this Sunday’s Mass readings we return to the image of the vineyard. The parable in today’s Gospel is an allegory used by Jesus to do several things: to confront the religious leaders of the time for being unfaithful stewards of God’s grace, to point out the numerous prophetic voices they have ignored, to predict his own death as the fulfillment of these prophetic voices, and to foretell the fruition of the Church. You and I are the “other tenants” to whom the vineyard has now been leased by the vine grower, God the Father.
But we are not alone. The vine we tend as stewards also tends us. Christ joins us in the vineyard of the Church as the True Vine, giving us life so that we may in turn, with him, produce abundant fruit in praise of the Father—the fruit of the vine and work of human hands. In short, it is Christ who gives life to the Church. It was born on the cross, when water and blood—his very life—poured out from his pierced side. Christ is our sap. And if we remain tapped into him through the Eucharist, in common worship, in prayer and Scripture, in the sacraments and tradition of the Church, we will bear his fruit as faithful tenants of the vineyard, saying with him, “Blessed be God forever.”
The key to all this, in the context of today’s Mass, is St. Paul’s message to the Philippians in the second reading. “Have no anxiety at all,” he urges, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, we all tend to beat down or “kill” the prophetic voices within and around us. It happens in numerous ways. Ignoring someone who clearly needs our help because we’d rather not bother, or because the person is someone we don’t particularly like. Becoming so immersed in our outward activities that we squelch God’s tiny whispering sound deep within and lose focus on what’s really important in life. Worrying to the point of despair rather than trusting in God’s providential care. There are myriad ways of disposing of prophetic voices sent by God to help us with care of the vineyard.
What St. Paul is saying is that through prayer and praise, we remain connected to Christ the True Vine. We participate in the mystery we contemplate. We listen to to the prophetic voice of God deep within and around us. Our hearts and minds find the peace that the world cannot give. We bear abundant fruit--fruit of the vine and work of human hands—for the world to feast on and (hopefully) find peace as well.
But without Christ, we can do nothing. Before we can harvest the grapes, savor the wine, and pour it into the hearts of others, we must let the True Vine grow within us, give us life, and produce his abundant fruit.
Then, with the Psalmist, we can say:
How can I repay the Lord
for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
I will call on the Lord’s name.

                 -- Psalm 116:12-13

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