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Fernando Armellini - Tue, Oct 10th 2023



The last verse of (Ps 137—the famous song of exiles—is always carefully ignored.After the poignant reminder of the tears of the exiles along the rivers of Babylon, the poet, addressing the bloody city, exclaims: “Happy is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Ps 137:9). The concluding verse of today’s Gospel raises an embarrassment. It is not carried in the lectionary text. Referring to Christ—the stone which the builders rejected—the evangelist comments: “Whoever falls on this stone, he will be broken to pieces; on whomever this stone falls, he will be ground to dust” (Mt 21:44).

These images are upsetting. They suddenly illumine each other if we catch their reference to the scene described in the book of Daniel: a stone—not driven by human hands—comes off from the top and hits a colossal, beautiful-looking, but a terrible statuethat collapses and falls apart (Dn 2:31?-35). It is the idol that, in his foolishness, the manhimself built and from its slavery, he can no longer free himself. It is the unjust, corruptand inhuman society the person created and of which he remains a victim.

Christ and his Gospel are ‘the stone’ hurled by God against this monstrous structure. They are ‘the stone’ that shatters the logic of this world, the tricks, the cunning and above all, the foolish images people made for themselves of God. The stone is intended to shatter the plans of the wicked and smash their children. The wicked will not have offspring, will remain without posterity, and have no future because God will vanish all doers of iniquity. This is the good news.

The great of this world—the builders of the new ‘Tower of Babel’—discard this stonebecause it does not fit their plans; it messes up their dreams, destroys their kingdoms. They tried to eliminate it, but God chose it as the rock of salvation. Whoever makes it thefoundation of his life will not be disappointed.

• To internalize the message, we repeat:“We are the Lord’s vineyard; which fruits can we offer him?”


First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7


“In the last days ...nations will not raise sword against nation…one will sit in peace and freedom under a fig tree or a vine of his own and none shall make them afraid" (Mic 4:1-4). With this lovely bucolic image, Micah describes the peaceful and happy life every Israelite sought. The vineyard was a symbol of peace, family union, joy and feast. The beloved of the Song of Songs dreamed of running between the rows, hand in hand with herbeloved in a cool spring morning: “Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the buds have opened and the pomegranates have blossomed. There I will give you my love” (Song 7:13). The bride of the man blessed by God is “like a vine, will bear fruits in your home” (Ps128:3).

In this cultural context, in which the vineyard is associated with the call to love, the poem proposed to us today is born. It is rightly counted among the masterpieces of the world’s literature. It describes a farmer's passion for his vineyard, a yearning affection, like that of a lover for the woman of his life. At home, on the street, with friends, he speaks of no one but her.

The poet imagines himself to be the friend of this ‘bridegroom’ and says: “My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside ...” (v. 1). An excellent vineyard, grapes purchased from abroad, chosen strains favored among thousands. It had been planted on a sunnyslope, the ideal place to get those clusters that already in July are tinged with violet, a grape’s sign of exquisite flavor and a harbinger of good and robust wine. The land was freed of thorns and weeds, with the stones gathered at the edge of the field. They made ??up the wall and the tower of protection against thieves and wild beasts.

No care, no concern, no effort had been spared. The tenderness of the belovedtranspires even by the insistence with which he keeps repeating the expression ‘my vineyard’: “Now inhabitants of Jerusalem, judge between me and my vineyard. What was more there to do that I have not done for my vineyard? Now I will let you know what I am going to do with my vineyard” (vv. 3-5).

At this point, the reader is anxious to know the result of the story. What will the lavishly cared for vineyard produce? In the second stanza (vv. 3-4), the dramatic surprise of the peasant is told: He is expecting a yield of excellent grapes. Instead, it yields only wild, bitter, inedible grapes (v. 4). As in the betrayed and dismayed heart of the lover, love turns into disappointment, resentment and anger. The farmer decides to inflict a terriblepunishment on his vineyard: he will break down the wall, let the wayfarers enter to trample on it, wild animals to devastate it, the brambles and briers to invade it until she chokes. Hewill neither prune nor hoe it. He will command the clouds not to send the beneficial rain and dew on it (vv. 5-6).

The last verse (v. 7) explains the image's meaning: the vineyard is Israel; she is thechoice and precious vine that God has acquired in Egypt. A few years before, the prophet Hosea had said: “Israel was a spreading vine, rich in fruit” (Hosea 10:1).

The author of (Ps 80 develops the details of the removal of the ‘stones’—the peoplewho occupied Palestine before the arrival of the Israelites—a detail that is only hinted at in our poem: “You had a vine you brought from Egypt. You drove the nations out to plant it in their land. On the ground that you cleared it took root and filled the land" (Ps 80:9-10).

The tower of protection was the dynasty of David.

Israel responded with infidelity and rebellion against the love lavished on it. The fruit(the good and sweet grape) that the Lord was waiting for was fidelity to the covenant, social justice, help for the poor, the orphan and the widow. What did he find? Instead, he found cries of the oppressed and exploited people, lies in court, hatred, bloodshed, areligion of processions, pilgrimages to the temple, and rites, which did not correspond tothe conversion of the heart.

There is a curious play on words in the original text: justice and righteousness (that God expected of his people) are terms similar to bloodshed and cries of the oppressed(which is what Israel produces). Hearing them pronounced may even confuse them (mishpat = righteousness and mishpah = bloodshed; tzedakah = justice and tze'aqah = cries of the oppressed). At first sight, the wild grape may seem good, but only in appearance.

In the allegory of the vineyard, there are two opposing attitudes: that of God who manifests a concrete love (he prepares the soil, plants choicest vines, protects it with a tower, digs a wine press) and the people who, neglecting justice, are satisfied with exterior rites and devout prayers (cf. Is 1:11-17).

The severe denunciation of Isaiah is presented again to the Christians of today. The danger of the illusion of being right with God because they are flawless in the execution ofreligious practices is incumbent upon them. Because of her infidelity, Israel has gone to meet a national disaster. It was invaded by foreign peoples (Assyrians, Babylonians...) who devastated “the vineyard of the Lord” and reduced Jerusalem to “a hut in a melon field”(Is 1:8). This destruction symbolizes the sterility of one who ignores mistakes and neglectsthe attention and kindness that God has for him.


Second Reading: Philippians 4:6-9


In the reading’s first verses (vv. 6-7), Paul says that nothing can destroy the peace andjoy of a Christian. Nothing can distress him if he remains united to God in prayer.

In the second part (v. 8), Christians are encouraged to cultivate a list of human virtuesin their lives. It is about the quality and behavior that is appreciated by everyone, everywhere. What makes a person admirable, lovely, honored and respected, must be practiced by every Christian. We cannot claim to be a disciple of Christ if we are not loyal, honest, integral and respectable.

Without fear of contradiction, Paul, putting aside false modesty, dares to stand as amodel of this behavior (v. 9). His recommendation is an invitation to today's Christians toshow sweet, friendly, respectful traits towards everyone, especially non-believers.

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43


Like the prophet Isaiah, Jesus also uses the image of the vineyard to describe the work of God and people’s response. However, the scene is quite different. The personages change: in the foreground, God and the vineyard that produces bitter and inedible grapes are not there, but there is the owner, God, and his dependents, identified as the high priests and the spiritual guides of the people to whom the parable is directed (Mt 21:23). Then thevineyard is not sterile; it seems to bear fruit, but they are not delivered. Finally, the conclusion is different: there is no abandonment, devastation of the vineyard, but a new beginning, an intervention of salvation, a replacement of the inept workers.

We come to the parable. A master plants a vineyard with a hedge around it, digs a millthere, builds a tower, entrusts it to tenants and goes. When the time of harvest arrived, he sent his servants to collect the produce, but here’s the surprise: the farmers do not want to deliver the benefits. The first hypothesis that comes to mind is that they want to keep the produce for themselves. There is another possibility, perhaps more likely, they have nofruit to present. They may not have worked. They may have spent their time in drunken carousing or have performed badly.

Some of them began to make fun of the master’s envoys, then the insults, beatings,and finally the killing of some servants. The landlord does not give up; he loves his vineyard too much. He sends other servants, more numerous than the first, but even thesehave no luck. As a final attempt, he sends his son, but the workers in the vineyard hunt him out and kill him. They are convinced of being able to be masters of the field that has beenentrusted to them.

As in the First Reading, all the details of the Gospel story have a symbolic meaning.The master is the Lord who has lavished so much care and expressed an immense love for his people (v. 33). The hedge is the Torah, the law that God has revealed to his people, to protect them from enemies, that is, from the proposals of a senseless life that would lead to ruin. The tenants are the chiefs, religious and political leaders, whose task is to place the people in ideal conditions to produce the fruit that the owner expects. The first reading identifies the fruit. It is the works of love for the neighbor and social justice.

The two groups of envoys are the prophets who, before and after the exile, were sent, always more numerous, to warn Israel to be faithful to the covenant. That is how Godexpresses himself through the mouth of Jeremiah: “From the time I brought their forebears out of Egypt until this day I have continually sent them my servants, the prophets, but this stiff-necked people did not listen. They paid no attention and were worse than their forebears” (Jer 7:25-26). The fate of these men was dramatic: beatings, stoning (2 Chr 24:21), fetters and chains (Jeremiah 20:2), death by the sword (Jeremiah 26:23). They should not expect anything else: they were the mouthpiece of God and his wisdom, too far from the absurd and unacceptable thoughts of men. That is why the tenants want to take possession of the field, claim to manage the ‘vineyard’ by themselves. They representthose who want to do without God and consider His gifts right to be appropriated.

The son is Jesus. The time of harvest is the time of God’s judgment that—this must bekept in mind—should not be understood as the ‘day of reckoning,’ but as an intervention of salvation. Let me explain. At the end of the parable, Jesus involves his audience and asks their opinion on what behavior to suggest to the owner. They convincingly respond:“The master will bring those evil men to an evil end” (v. 41).

This severe image results from the effervescent oriental fantasy that—as we have repeatedly pointed out—is pleased to paint pictures with solid colors. But Jesus follows a different logic. Instead of approving the words of threat and destruction handed down byhis hearers (v. 41), he suggests the action of God. The Lord will not react by destroyingevil and not pretend that evil was not committed. This remains; it cannot be reset. God intervenes to make it serve the good, making it yield a masterpiece of salvation. You may remember what Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him to the Egyptians: “You intended to do me harm but God intended to turn it to good to bring about what is happening today—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20).

Verses 39,42-43 form the central part of the parable describing the death and resurrection of Jesus. The leaders of the people take the Son and throw him out of the vineyard. This is what happened to Jesus. He was deemed a blasphemer, impure, and for this, he was brought out of the city walls and was executed. But God, in raising him, glorified him and made him Lord, the cornerstone of a new building.

The result of the intervention of the master is the delivery of the vineyard to otherworkers who will make it produce fruit. This is not about the master’s annoyed reaction buthis gesture of love and salvation. Not even the rejection and murder of his son can make him an enemy of humanity.

In narrating this parable, the evangelist Matthew certainly thought of the infidelity of the leaders of his people and their rejection of the Messiah of God. But not only them; he also thought of his community and the entire world: every person is a vine-grower from which the Lord expects delivery of the fruit. The happy news which concludes the Gospel(v. 43) is that, despite all the refusals of people, in the end, God always finds a way toachieve his purpose and to obtain the excellent fruit he wants.


READ: Once again, Jesus conveys his teaching by way of a parable: the parable of the owner and his tenants. The unacceptable behavior of the tenants and their violence against the owner's son mirrors the stature of the chief priests and the elders in front of God. They indicted themselves by their own judgment on what to do with the wicked tenants.


REFLECT: How disheartening it is to receive ingratitude and hate in return for doing good? It has been the fate of many good men and women who pledged their lives in the service of others. However, many of them continued to do good despite adversetreatment because their hearts were filled with whatever is truthful, holy, just, pure, lovely, and noble, and they had the peace of God. How do you compare with them?


PRAY: God has invested himself so much in us. We must give him a just accounting.We pray that the peace of God may reign in our hearts.


ACT: Let us be transparent and accountable today as good and faithful stewards with our words and actions. Let us do an act of good without expecting gratitude or favors.








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