Hebrew Country Music

27th Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Is 5:1-7 Psalm Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20 Phil 4:6-9 Mt 21:33-43

Isaiah the Hebrew Country Singer
When I heard the first reading proclaimed today, I had this image of the Prophet Isaiah appearing in ancient Jerusalem. Just imagine yourself walking down the street in 700BC and coming face to face with this ancient Jewish prophet, standing on a street corner decked out in his prophet robes and great big long beard playing this tune as a one-man band. If we had to put Isaiah’s song to music, what sort of music would it be?

To help us figure that out, let’s listen again to the first reading…
I am singing a song about my vineyard
on a fertile hillside;
with the choicest vines;
a fine watchtower and wine press.
Just Like Country Music – Good and then Disaster
This part of the song would be like a country song, where the singer starts by singing about his wife, his dog and his Chevy truck.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
So now we wonder – Why this disaster?
But, then his wife leaves him, his dog gets shot and his truck gets wrecked. The translation we have here speaks of “wild grapes”, but perhaps a more accurate translation might be “stinky grapes”. So, like any good Hebrew country ballad, the singer reflects, “What more could I have done?”
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for beautiful, luscious, tasty grapes did I find only stinky, putrid grapes instead?
From Hebrew Country to Fundamentalist Fire and Brimstone
It is at this point in his song that Isaiah turns away from his Hebrew country-western genre and wanders into some “Fire and Brimstone” imagery –

I will let you know what I will do to my vineyard: I will tear down its hedge, break through its wall, and let it be trampled!

Images clash in scripture for a reason
And, now, we are left standing on the corner in Jerusalem before Isaiah the prophet thinking “Huh” – His one-man band show began with a beautiful country ballad, but ended up sounding like some really obnoxious thrash-metal. It’s like combining two foods that should never be put together – say pickles and peanut butter, or wearing a striped shirt with some really obnoxious plaid pants from the 70’s.

We only do this when we want to get peoples attention, and this is Isaiah’s purpose as well.

In the Gospel today, Christ uses this same parable when speaking to the chief priests and the elders of the people, so it is an important parable that the Church has given for us to reflect on today. What is the message?

Call to Conversion – Look at what God has done for us!
The message of this parable is conversion, it begins by reminding us about how blessed we are; that God has so profoundly blessed us in this life. As Isaiah says, He built the vineyard, He planted the FINEST vines, He dug the wine press, He built the watch-tower, He planted the hedge. He did all of this, and then turned it over to us, the tenants.

Think of this vineyard as our souls. God planted in our souls, the FINEST vines, we are after all created in the image and likeness of God. He gave us a fine winepress (Baptism), gave us Guardian Angels to watch over our souls, and gave us a hedge to protect us from sin.

How are we responding to God’s blessings?
How have we responded to God’s blessings? Are our lives producing stinky grapes? What is the fruit of our spiritual lives? Think back over this past week and reflect, seriously reflect; When did I fall into Sin?


Did I, did we live lives that Christ would be proud of this past week? Did we conduct ourselves in a manner that was worthy of the description – “Christian” – were we Like Christ?


Parables help us to think objectively about our lives
Jesus and Isaiah used this parable to help people see the difficult things about their own lives. Elsewhere in Scripture Christ reminds us that it is easier for us to see the speck in our brothers eye than to see the beam in our own. That is why he set’s this story in the third person and then asks the people, asks us – “What do you think the master should do after they murdered his Son?”

It’s easy to see the evil and faults of others, It is more challenging to see our own faults. That is the challenge of the Gospel today.

Are we Spiritual Brats?
Another way of asking the question of the Gospel, perhaps a bit more forcefully is – “Are we spiritual brats?”

Do we realize the great gifts that God has given us, or are we behaving like spiritual brats, picking up the precious gifts of grace that God has poured out into our lives and thanklessly throwing them into the corner, while we pursue a life of self-indulgence and sin?


Spiritual Maturity – the Anti-dote to stinky grapes
Well, the anti-dote to stinky grapes is spiritual maturity. The readings today are inviting us to “grow up” and begin to act as women and men who are followers of Jesus Christ. To combat the sickness of sin that is rampant in our church we can follow the example of St. Clare of Assisi.

Clare of Assisi
St. Clare was the 3rd of 5 children in Assisi in Italy at the end of the 12th century. At a young age she left home and pursued a life of austere poverty in order to focus on her relationship with God. She recognized that certain things in her life (comfort and luxury in her case in particular) were distracting her from caring for her vineyard

I am not encouraging all of us here today to head for the convent or the monastery, but rather to grasp the essence of Clare’s spiritual life and become aware of the factors in our life that distract us from Christ.

Avoid distraction – just tend to the vineyard
Clare was filled with a profound awareness of the greatness of God’s blessing in her life. It wasn’t in what she had, her family, friends, wealth, fine linens. It wasn’t in stuff, but rather it was in relationships – First with God, and her close friends. Clare found that the more she listened to the words of St. Paul in the second reading, the more that she sought after what was “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, or excellent” the more profoundly she came to know Jesus Christ and be filled with “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding”.

Awareness of Gods blessings leads to thanksgiving
Clare’s life was filled with thanksgiving to God for the ways that He had shown her his blessings. She found that in her life, pursuing poverty in the convent was the way that she could best recognize the blessings of God, and so return to Him the finest grapes of her love.

The lesson for us is the same, to seek after the ways in which we become most aware of God’s graces in our lives, so that we too can begin to relate to God with thanksgiving. Here are three practical ways to become more thankful this week.

1. Spend time in prayer (Relationship with God)
2. Spend time with someone who needs company, relationship over “communication” – Don’t text when you can call, don’t call when you can visit. Etc.
3. Examine your day before you go to sleep (Recognize God’s blessings in your life). Become aware of the state of your vineyard.

When we stumble, we pay attention to where we are going
St. Paul described Jesus as a “stumbling stone”. In this way he describes an encounter with Christ as an encounter that means to stop us and give us the opportunity to think, and then act on the gifts that God has given to us.

We can reflect back on our sins of this past week, shrug our shoulders and say, well I tried, ho hum. Or, we can begin this by setting our sights on something that is better than a life of sin, to seek out as St. Paul encourages us to seek out “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Because when we do, we will encounter Christ, and He will become the Corner Stone of our lives, and fill us with “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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