The word of God is a powerful seed. The Bible is the history of its cultivation and the distribution of its fruit. It’s also a manual offering instruction on how to keep that crop viable. Humanity has not always been very good at managing God’s crops, and the readings for this Sunday’s mass acknowledge that condition and inspire us to do better.
Lesson One: Plant that seed in good soil, don’t bury it in ground made sterile by evil. In our first reading (is 5:1-7), Isaiah tells of someone who did all the right things to start a vineyard, yet he still ended up with wild grapes. These turned into grapes of wrath.
“Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard,” Isaiah quotes his “friend.” “Take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it.”
Pretty harsh. But agriculture in those days was local, and was designed to feed the population surrounding it. Some had more success cultivating the word of God in their surroundings than others, but that didn’t feed the world.
Then came Jesus, and the concept of a global supply chain was born. Through his teachings and ministry Jesus perfected quality control and product purity. He just needed managers who would distribute the fruit to global markets. Our gospel reading from Matthew (mt 21:33-43) puts responsibility for the successful cultivation and distribution of the word of God on us. In it, Jesus uses the old vineyard analogy in his parable, but this time the grapes are fine, it’s the people in charge of them who are the problem. Through this parable, Jesus foretells his own death at the hands of people such as the ones he was telling it to. But implicit in the moral is the salvation that comes afterward—thanks to the distribution network he establishes.
“They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him,” Jesus tells the chief priests and elders. “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?,” he asks them. His audience answers, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Then Jesus reveals the surprise ending: it is THEM he casts as the villains in this story. His disciples are the heroes who would carry on his work and ensure that future generations would at least have a better chance of cultivating, distributing and consuming the word of God.
In this Mass’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (phil 4:6-9), it’s evident that he is carrying on Christ’s work of building distribution networks:
“Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me,” he writes. “Then the God of peace will be with you.”
And with your spirit—so it can plant the word in your community.