Sunday, October 5, 2014

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 5:1-7
Ps 80
Phil 4:6-9
Mt 21:33-43

Today’s gospel begins where last Sunday’s ended.  The first reading and the Gospel illustrate the dependence of the New Testament upon the Old Testament.  They remind us that Jesus came not to abolish the Old Covenant  but to fulfill it.  The images that Jesus used in the parable, the vineyard, the wine press, and the tower came directly from Isaiah. They make the same painful point about fidelity to God’s law.  But Jesus moved beyond Isaiah. 

Cultivating a vineyard is an extremely complicated and difficult undertaking. 
During tertianship, the last formal training a Jesuit does before he is called to final vows, our twelve-man tertian class made the thirty-day retreat at the Sevenhill Jesuit Retreat House on the grounds of the Jesuit winery just outside of Clare, South Australia.  The Clare Valley, with 35 wineries, is one of the centers of the Australian wine industry.  Sevenhill, established 135 years ago, was the first of the wineries.  It sits on 1000 acres rolling hills covered with grape vines.  The setting is beyond beautiful.  But, the beauty obscures an important fact, caring for a vineyard is difficult ,demanding, and at times, thankless work.  Sometimes, despite precautions, backbreaking work, the commitment of the wine master and the  dedication of the workers, the harvest is not good and the wines are less than wonderful. 

Unfortunately, 2011 was a catastrophic year in the Clare Valley.  It was unusually cold and cloudy. There was way too much rain during the critical harvest period.  In the end only sixty percent of the grapes were harvested.  The others died on the vine.  But, the winemakers at Sevenhill and the rest of the Valley did not give up.   At out place, Brother John and his staff continued to nurture the vines, nourish the soil, and do whatever else was necessary for the following year's harvest.  So it is with God who loves us and forgives sin.

In the first reading we heard the vineyard owner’s dismay when, despite constructing the vineyard, putting in a watchtower to prevent sabotage, and carefully cultivating the grapes, he harvested not sweet grapes but useless sour wild grapes. 

Isaiah was, like Jesus in the gospel, using the image of the vineyard for the people of Israel, people who, despite God’s care for them, worshipped false idols, ignored the law, and became like sour wild grapes that could not be used for fine wine.  But there is hope.  There is hope of reestablishing the loving relationship between God and His people.

The psalm plays off Isaiah’s images.  Once again the vineyard is a symbol for the people.  The psalmist asks the Lord to restore the vineyard, to resume caring for it, despite the poor harvest, despite the people abandoning the covenant yet again.  If He does this they will no longer withdraw from Him.  There is a combination of confession, faith, and bargaining going on in the psalm.  But the psalmist, who captured the essence of human behavior in this psalm, knows that God is forgiving and will relent. 

Jesus takes the vineyard image further than Isaiah.  He predicts his death.  But he also tells of the mission to the Gentiles, those who were not part of the original covenant.  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  Truer words have never been uttered.

There are three more verses at the end of this parable.  The last two are critical to put the parable’s effect, and of all of Jesus’ teaching in context.  “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them.  And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds for they regarded him as a prophet.”  The truth hurts.  Sometimes the truth hurts the one who states it.  Killing the bearer of the truth may be much easier than making fundamental changes in our lives and actions as a result of being told that truth.

Five more chapters of parables and discourses  follow chapter 21 before Matthew recounts Jesus’ passion and death.  They are worth reading at home.  All of them are familiar.  All of them challenge us, just as they challenged Jesus’ hearers.  At times they are painful because we see ourselves in them. It is not a pretty picture.  We can clean up that picture easily enough. The instructions are in the second reading:  Do “what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”  That peace will surpass all understanding.  That peace will trump anything we can imagine.  

Yesterday, was perhaps one of the most mind-blowing days for those who love Division I College Football.  Penn State was not playing nor was Boston College.  However, the upsets, the 'last plays' and everything else came together for one of the most fun days of football watching in a long time.  Even when a buddy stopped in unexpectedly and we decided to grab a pizza, the fun was merely interrupted not ended.  The end of the USC-Arizona State game may have pushed "The Pass" (Doug Flutie to Gerald Phalen) out of advertising.  Alas, the next few Saturdays are going to be very busy and football watching will be at a minimum.  Then comes my 8-day retreat.  At a monastery.  No football.

Below are some of the photos from Chad.  I didn't take many during the month there.  I was forbidden from being seen in public with the camera.  Thus the shots I took were limited to the hospital, school, the grounds, and other private settings.  Did get a few from the roof of the medical school.  I wanted to get some more but the friend who took me up to the roof came down with malaria.  Asking him to walk up five flights did not seem like a good idea.  Next year perhaps.  

Doing an EKG in class at the medical school.  I haven't seen the sucker cups in years.  There was nothing worse in medical school than having to apply these to a man's chest if it was hairy.  Even on smooth skin they didn't always adhere well despite the goop.  

The front entrance of the medical school. 

Carlos, a Jesuit MD, teaching.  He was using a tree branch as a pointer.  A few minutes after this I remembered the laser pointer with slide advancer in my briefcase.  With a total lack of tact and class I got up, walked to the front of the room, took the twig and gave him the pointer.  "Use this."  He did.  It is still there.  

The view from the medical school across the street.  The people are not walking on the wall though it appears that way.  The hospital complex grounds were below the grade of the road.  Drivers had to go slowly pulling into the hospital because of the dip. 

A statue of the Bon Samaritain (Good Samaritan) on the hospital grounds.

Teaching how to take blood pressure.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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