(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: https://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Mass-Blog-for-the-27th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2023.mp3)
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on
This first stanza from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” sounds like it could have been written by Isaiah—whose prophetic book documents God’s wrath at humanity’s self-inflicted torture and enslavement. Here’s how the prophet characterizes the fruit of that harvest:
At the wrath of the LORD of hosts the land quakes, and the people are like fuel for fire; no one spares his brother. They hack on the right, but remain hungry; they devour on the left, but are not filled. Each devours the flesh of the neighbor; (IS 9:18-19).
This environment in Isaiah’s time explains why we needed laws to protect us FROM each other, and why God finally sent us Jesus to inspire protection FOR each other.
Jesus must have felt kinship with Isaiah, and though they were separated by centuries, Isaiah prophesied as if Jesus were his best friend—even voicing the sacrifice his friend would offer up for our sake:
I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who tore out my beard; my face I did not hide from insults and spitting. (IS 50:6).
This Sunday’s Mass readings demonstrate their mutual inspiration by making a connection between the vineyards both envisioned. In Isaiah’s vineyard, even though the owner provided the perfect environment for a good vintage, there was something wrong with the end product:
My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes (Is 5:1-7).
Jesus envisioned for us a vineyard whose threat was external—from the outsiders hired to follow the rules ensuring a decent vintage. These outsiders hijacked the vineyard’s produce for themselves, and prevented others from sharing its bounty. They even killed whomever the owner sent to access it—even the owner’s son. Jesus aims the moral of this parable at any “leader” trying to hijack or poison the fruit of the vineyard he planted:
“The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” (Mt 21:33-43)
Paul, who was once one of those hijackers, was transformed into one of that vineyard’s greatest protectors, and in Sunday’s letter to the Philippians (Phil 4:6-9), he describes the priceless qualities of the vintage Jesus cultivated to ensure that this world will be saved from itself and for his Father:
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.
These are the values that Jesus meant to free us from enslavement to laws written to protect us from each other’s worst qualities. Julia Ward Howe wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic in celebration of that freedom and to ensure that its honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, excellence AND truth will help us keep marching on.