Education is a good thing. Theological education is a really good thing. But I gotta be honest. I think that, sometimes, too much theological education can be damaging. Here’s what I mean by that.
Those of us who have studied theology extensively tend to be very academic in our approach to biblical texts. Or maybe it’s just me. But an overemphasis on the academic study of Holy Scripture can, I think, also cause us not to see some really beautiful things in the Scriptures or even make our faith more about reason than the staggering beauty of who God is and what He has done in and through the Son.
I say all that to say that this week’s readings, for me, became too academic initially. I began to study these texts to prepare this weekly blog. I was meditating on these texts, trying to find that thing that I could pull out of the texts to blow theological minds. I was, frankly, becoming frustrated and this was feeling like a dry exercise.
And then, thanks be to God, the Spirit opened my heart to see one thing in these readings.
I have been on a really emotional journey recently. As I have converted to the Catholic Church, I have experienced a range of emotions. And I have been grateful for the experiences! I had begun to feel numb and like I was just going through the motions. But recently, I was reading and listening to a podcast about St. Augustine.
And my heart was awakened in a wonderful way. Part of the brilliance, in my opinion, of St. Augustine was his ability to be so very emotive about the heart and its love for beauty and how that draws us to God, who is Himself beautiful and the source of all beauty.
And that’s what I see in this week’s readings.
Beauty that aches with meaning. Beauty that causes my heart to soar and weep simultaneously.
Let me explain and maybe you’ll see it as well.
Let me just say from the jump that there a many references to bearing fruit in this week’s readings. We can have that conversation if you want. I think every serious reader of Holy Scripture and every serious Christian will agree that our lives should bear the fruits of repentance (thank you, St. John the Baptist). We need to bear fruit in keeping with our profession of Jesus as the crucified and raised Messiah.
But I want us to focus on something else, aside from our obligation to bear fruit.
I want us to focus on the imagery we see in our readings.
Look at Isaiah 5:1-7. I love how the ESV translates this (vs 1-4),
“Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?”
Look at this verbiage! Let me sing for my beloved…immediately we are shown the tenderness of this text. My beloved is not something you just call everyone but is a tender expression of love. And consider how the Beloved One cares for this vineyard. It sits on a fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones. He planted it with the choicest of vines, built a watchtower in it to protect it and hewed out a wine vat so that the fruit of the vineyard would be joy and gladness to the hearts of men!
Consider the loving care of the One who planted the vineyard and praise the planter for His mercy and loving care!
Look at the Psalm reading/chant for today, Psalm 80:9,12,13-16,19-20.
Here we see that the vineyard is a people. Now the loving care of the Isaiah text comes into focus. Now we see even more the tenderness of the care of the Beloved One who owns and plants the vineyard, who has transplanted it from a place of darkness and slavery to a place of freedom and plenty!
Our gospel text today is from St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 21:33-43.
Jesus takes the Isaiah text and applies it directly to Himself (if you’ve ever wondered how to interpret OT texts in light of Jesus, read this parable). Again we see that all the activity of planting the vineyard and caring for it is at the behest of the landowner. The vines didn’t plant themselves. Rather, the owner (God the Father) in his benevolence has given life. He has chosen to plant the vines and care for them. He has sent servants (prophets) to do His bidding but the tenants that God gave the vineyard to (the people of Israel…and us) abused them. They failed to comply with the messengers sent by God.
So then, joy of all joys, mystery of mysteries, beauty of all beauty, the landowner (God) sent His Son. Did they, do we welcome the Son? Have we given Him his just dues, the respect and honor He deserves? Or have we, like the tenants of the parable, thrown Him out of a vineyard that wasn’t even ours and murdered him?
Oh Church, we need to see not only the great sadness of our texts today but the great joy and beauty as well!
In His great mercy, our Father has given us all we could dare to dream or ask for. He has given us the very vineyard of His love and care for us. He has given us the wine of salvation to drink freely of! He has cared for us, His vineyard; He has given us all that we have. And He has sent His Son for our redemption! How can we not see and taste and feel this great joy granted to us by our kind Father who has sent for us His Son, so that we may again be the fruitful vineyard of the One who planted?
Let us rejoice in the beautiful and sacrificial love of our Father who has given us the Son!
Thanks be to God!