St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:9, 12-16, 19-20
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43

In today's Gospel Jesus returns to the Old Testament symbol of the vineyard to teach about Israel, the Church, and the kingdom of God.

And the symbolism of today's First Reading and Psalm is readily understood.

God is the owner and the house of Israel is the vineyard. A cherished vine, Israel was plucked from Egypt and transplanted in a fertile land specially spaded and prepared by God, hedged about by the city walls of Jerusalem, watched over by the towering Temple. But the vineyard produced no good grapes for the wine, a symbol for the holy lives God wanted for His people. So God allowed His vineyard to be overrun by foreign invaders, as Isaiah foresees in the First Reading.

Jesus picks up the story where Isaiah leaves off, even using Isaiah's words to describe the vineyard's wine press, hedge, and watchtower. Israel's religious leaders, the tenants in His parable, have learned nothing from Isaiah or Israel's past. Instead of producing good fruits, they've killed the owner's servants, the prophets sent to gather the harvest of faithful souls.

In a dark foreshadowing of His own crucifixion outside Jerusalem, Jesus says the tenants' final outrage will be to seize the owner's son, and to kill him outside the vineyard walls.

For this, the vineyard, which Jesus calls the kingdom of God, will be taken away and given to new tenants - the leaders of the Church, who will produce its fruit.

We are each a vine in the Lord's vineyard, grafted onto the true vine of Christ (see John 15:1-8), called to bear fruits of the righteousness in Him (see Philippians 1:11), and to be the "first fruits" of a new creation (see James 1:18).

We need to take care that we don't let ourselves be overgrown with the thorns and briers of worldly anxiety. As today's Epistle advises, we need to fill our hearts and minds with noble intentions and virtuous deeds, rejoicing always that the Lord is near.

Direct download: A_27_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 3:16pm EDT

Readings:
Ezekiel 18:25-28
Psalm 25:4-9
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32

Echoing the complaint heard in last week's readings, today's First Reading again presents protests that God isn't fair. Why does He punish with death one who begins in virtue but falls into iniquity, while granting life to the wicked one who turns from sin?

This is the question that Jesus takes up in the parable in today's Gospel.

The first son represents the most heinous sinners of Jesus' day - tax collectors and prostitutes - who by their sin at first refuse to serve in the Lord's vineyard, the kingdom. At the preaching of John the Baptist, they repented and did what is right and just. The second son represents Israel's leaders - who said they would serve God in the vineyard, but refused to believe John when he told them they must produce good fruits as evidence of their repentance (see Matthew 3:8).

Once again, this week's readings invite us to ponder the unfathomable ways of God's justice and mercy. He teaches His ways only to the humble, as we sing in today's Psalm. And in the Epistle today, Paul presents Jesus as the model of that humility by which we come to know life's true path.

Paul sings a beautiful hymn to the Incarnation. Unlike Adam, the first man, who in his pride grasped at being God, the New Adam, Jesus, humbled himself to become a slave, obedient even unto death on the cross (see Romans 5:14). In this He has shown sinners - each one of us - the way back to the Father. We can only come to God, to serve in His vineyard, the Church, by having that same attitude as Christ.

This is what Israel's leaders lacked. In their vainglory, they presumed their superiority - that they had no further need to hear God's Word or God's servants.

But this is the way to death, as God tells Ezekiel today. We are always to be emptying ourselves, seeking forgiveness for our sins and frailties, confessing on bended knee that He is Lord, to the glory of the Father.

Direct download: A_26_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:30pm EDT

Readings

Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalm145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20-24, 27
Matthew 20:1-16

The house of Israel is the vine of God - who planted and watered it, preparing the Israelites to bear fruits of righteousness (see Isaiah 5:7; 27:2-5).

Israel failed to yield good fruits and the Lord allowed His vineyard, Israel's kingdom, to be overrun by conquerors (see Psalm 80:9-20). But God promised that one day He would replant His vineyard and its shoots would blossom to the ends of the earth (see Amos 9:15; Hosea 14:5-10).

This is the biblical backdrop to Jesus' parable of salvation history in today's Gospel. The landowner is God. The vineyard is the kingdom. The workers hired at dawn are the Israelites, to whom He first offered His covenant. Those hired later in the day are the Gentiles, the non-Israelites, who, until the coming of Christ, were strangers to the covenants of promise (see Ephesians 2:11-13). In the Lord's great generosity, the same wages, the same blessings promised to the first-called, the Israelites, will be paid to those called last, the rest of the nations.

This provokes grumbling in today's parable. Doesn't the complaint of those first laborers sound like that of the older brother in Jesus' prodigal son parable (see Luke 15:29-30)? God's ways, however, are far from our ways, as we hear in today's First Reading. And today's readings should caution us against the temptation to resent God's lavish mercy.

Like the Gentiles, many will be allowed to enter the kingdom late - after having spent most of their days idling in sin.

But even these can call upon Him and find Him near, as we sing in today's Pslam. We should rejoice that God has compassion on all whom He has created. This should console us, too, especially if we have loved ones who remain far from the vineyard.

Our task is to continue laboring in His vineyard. As Paul says in today's Epistle, let us conduct ourselves worthily, struggling to bring all men and women to the praise of His name.

 

Direct download: A_25_Ordinary.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 4:23pm EDT

Signs of the Covenant: Transforming Lives and Renewing Relationships features six lectures by St. Paul Center President, Dr. Scott Hahn, and his wife Kimberly on the connections between the Church’s sacraments and the relationships we live everyday. Each hour-long talk helps unpack the necessity of God’s grace to our most important relationships—marriage, family, and friendships—and demonstrates how the sacraments are essential to loving people as God wants us to love them. 

Talk titles include:

• The Sevenfold Covenant

• The Art of Friendship

• When Words Are Deeds: How Sacraments Shape Our Lives

• Married Life as Ministry I: Living Out Our Domestic Liturgy

• Married Life as Ministry II: Living Out Our Domestic Liturgy

• We Must Be Sworn Again

Previously only available for purchase on CD, Signs of the Covenant can now be listened to online at SalvationHistory.com or downloaded to an mp3 player, both for free. It joins eight other multi-part audio courses—on the Gospels, the early Church, Paul’s letters, and more—as well as more than a dozen downloadable lectures on the Church Fathers, the sacraments, and popular conversion stories. 

To listen to Signs of the Covenant, visit SalvationHistory.com and click on audio. You’ll see it listed in the right hand column under “Audio Courses.” While you’re there, make sure to visit our library, where we’re regularly adding new articles on liturgy, apologetics, and Scripture, as well as homily helps for busy priests. No matter what your area of interest, you’ll almost always find something new at SalvationHistory.com.

Direct download: 01_The_Sevenfold_Covenant.mp3
Category:Signs of the Covenant -- posted at: 2:35pm EDT

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