Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year A: Isaiah 5:1-7; Ps 34; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Today’s readings remind us that our faith aims at our eternal good. In many cases that can go against our own expectations of instant “feelgood”. Sure, faith gives us an important insight that God carries through hardship; that Christ does not eliminate our problems but goes with us in all problems. But there is another and equally important aspect of our faith. To be carried by God through Jesus Christ presupposes him becoming part of our lives. And if Christ – God who comes to us in the matter we are created from – becomes part of our lives, we do not remain unaffected. Because then he will change us, aim at making us holy, completely for, and filled by, God. This will also chafe; demand sacrifices of everything, which cannot cohabit with Christ, which opposes God’s plan.
In our first reading we heard the prophet Isaiah lament over Israel. The little nation God first chose to make holy, a separate witness to the world, and freed from slavery in Egypt, gave a land, made a covenant with, promising protection, and gave the Law as help to become a role model in his service. The image of the people as God’s plantation, a tree or a vineyard, with the aim to bear fruit – good nutrition – for others, but turning out to deliver the opposite, is common in the Old Testament. Isaiah talks about the grapes turning sour, and more than 2000 years later we know both the taste and the disappointment. I.e the direct opposite of the “taste of the Lord”, as it were, acknowledged by our responsorial psalm.
No evil has God as direct cause. Evil is a consequence of us humans, in today’s readings represented by God’s chosen people Israel, turning away from God; making ourselves to yardsticks for truth and goodness, i.e. to gods. God found “bloodshed” and “distress” in the vineyard, as we heard in Isaiah. God did not cause it.
God’s protection is above all his help to us to avoid using our freedom to do evil to one another. Yet, as we continue to do it, constantly, God does not leave us in the lurch. The Jewish people survives the Babylonian captive and later the Roman occupation with the remaining hope that God will fulfil his promise of a finally liberating Messiah. This Messiah, showing to be God himself incarnate through the Jewish people, does not guarantee that we will not suffer from the evil following from our sins; but that all our injustice, i.e. our sin, as well as death itself, will not have the last word. If only we realize being on the wrong path, and turn to him.
In today’s gospel we hear how Jesus answers those in power in his time with a parable based on Isaiah’s image of the vineyard, but widened. We now have the servants who represent Israel’s prophets, for a long time warning God’s chosen people for having turned into sour grapes. And finally, we have the Son who is killed by the leaders of the people. When Jesus in this way foretells his own destiny and the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years later, and tells that the vineyard will be given to new tenants, he says that the time has come for the New Israel, the New Covenant, where God’s kingdom is to be built: viz. the Church, with him as keystone.
This does not mean that if we belong to the Church we can just settle down. The New Israel, the people of the Church, has just like the Old been set apart to bear fruit, i.e. in words and deeds testify of God to the world. The story of Israel’s apostasy just repeats the apostasy of all mankind, including us faithful. Nor do we always want to fulfil our task, be sweet and nourishing grapes, pay the owner of the vineyard his rent – i.e. live our faith.
In the second reading from Philippians we heard: “Keep doing all the things that you learnt … and have been taught … and have heard or seen … Then the God of peace will be with you.” This is the deepest insight of Israel’s Law, the Torah, explained and fulfilled by Christ; that he, above all through the sacraments, wants to enter into us in order to help us to live it from inside: our relationship to God, expressed by what we concretely do.
Love, the good deeds, is an act of the will and a fruit of us making Jesus Christ our only yardstick, and using our freedom and will, strengthened by him in the sacraments, to order everything in our lives with the help of it. God indeed loves us as we are, created in his image. But he loves us too much, and much more, to wanting us remain exactly as and where we are. He wants to complete his image in us, making it increasingly to his likeness, so that we therefore may rise with Christ from death to eternal life.
The Church has a central, yes, decisive, role in all this. It is the Church – the one founded by Christ on the apostles, the one having kept her visible signs and faith intact until this day, i.e. the Catholic Church – which carries the fulness of God’s incarnation to the world. In and through the Church we are nourished by Christ and his presence in the unchanged teaching and seven sacraments, i.e. the New, brought by Jesus to the world: himself, given to us to enable God’s will to be done in and through us. Trying to increasingly love the Church, at all times teaching on Jesus’s direct commission, by spending more and more time with her and trying to understand her doctrines, particularly in difficult areas; that is to learn and to be taught in order to “keep doing”, as the Apostle Paul says; to open oneself for the path to holiness where God both changes and carries. But to turn one’s back on the Church, to pick and choose in her teachings like on a smorgasbord, to follow only that, which fits me, and openly opposing her, believing that I myself have thought things through so much better than all the apostles, Church fathers, martyrs, saints, popes and councils altogether – that is to have the attitude, to oneself and to God, of the old tenants in the vineyard. And just like them, be deprived of the vineyard, God’s kingdom.
Also the New Israel, the new tenants, i.e. us, are called to conversion. To increasingly seek and listen to God’s voice through the Church in everything we do. To make Jesus Christ, God who has revealed himself to us, the only thing we seek for its own sake. Then we will receive all we need for our salvation, i.e. for our eternal communion with God, starting here and now, and fulfilled in the resurrection from the dead. Amen.