27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Reflection: Learning 2 styles of prayer
By SISTER MARY McGLONE
Who could fail to empathize with Isaiah’s heartbroken planter?
The poor man loved his land with all he had, molding it with his muscles, caressing it with his hands — never a mention of a servant to do the hard work. Once all was ready, he built a tower from which to gaze on its growth and protect it.
Alas, his hopes were dashed; the produce didn’t serve even for vinegar. What was there to do other than let it go wild and let the goats have their way with it?
Jesus turned Isaiah’s song of lament into a more personal parable. He transformed the relationship between proprietor and land into one between an owner and tenants. As we listen to his tale, we hear echoes of the preface to the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer: “Again and again you offered a covenant … and taught us to hope for salvation.”
Jesus’ parable recounts the underside of the story, turning it into a critique of his audience of closed-minded chief priests and elders. Underlining how the parable put the religious leaders on trial, Matthew described the treatment of the son in precise parallel to what the leaders eventually would do to Jesus: “They seized him, threw him out of (Jerusalem) and killed him.”
Responding to Jesus’ question about what the owner should do, the leaders pronounced sentence on themselves. Applying a theory of retribution, they said, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death.” In other words, they should reap the same evil they sowed.
Jesus didn’t follow their avenging lead. Instead of a violent vengeance for their evil, he simply says, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you.”
That sentence subtly reveals that by their treatment of prophets and their way of dealing with sinners they disqualify themselves for the kingdom that Jesus would make present among them.
Jesus’ words continue to echo the preface we hear so often. Phrases like “You did not abandon us to the power of death” and “He destroyed death and restored life” reveal what Jesus teaches about God’s approach to fickle humanity.
When Isaiah’s friend’s vineyard didn’t produce, the owner took away its protection and let it go wild. In contrast, Jesus gave people the freedom to judge for themselves: Did they want to live by the forgiving, loving norms of God’s reign or did they prefer a kingdom of their own making? God leaves the power in our hands.
Jesus’ question about what will happen to those who reject God’s messengers applies to everyone who reads the Gospel. It asks us, “What kind of realm do we hope to create among ourselves?”
Over and again, when we decide how to reward or condemn others, we hear Jesus say, “Leave the judgment to me.”
We heard this in Matthew 13, when Jesus warned against weeding the field. As we recalled last week, that was the angel’s message to Joseph: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 1:18-25). It is also the underlying theme of Jesus’ command to forgive. In the Letter to the Philippians, Paul offers another angle on this teaching. His message? “Have no anxiety.”
Any sense that this is a Pollyanna approach gets kiboshed when we remember that Paul was writing from prison. He found his situation of confinement and danger of death a good place from which to teach about prayer.
“Yes,” he says, “make your requests known to God, ask and do it with thanksgiving!”
He’s not saying that the God “who makes all things work for good” (Romans 8:28) is unaware, but rather that asking for God’s help will keep praying people attentive to how God would lead them forth. Thanksgiving keeps us conscious of how many ways God has been present to us. Because it is based on remembering God’s good care, requesting help with gratitude becomes the recipe for knowing “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
Today’s readings invite us into at least two styles of prayer. The first, as Paul says, is to pray with the trust that produces peace, remembering that God urges us toward unimaginable good in every circumstance.
The second might be more of a loving contemplation. Following Isaiah’s lead, we open ourselves to feel with the God of the vineyard, the owner who is laden with almost unbearable sadness at what has happened to what he had created with such care.
The dynamic of both of these prayers is the same. They lead to love of God, to a life that Paul calls honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, etc. Such prayer also leads us into the mustard-seed fruitfulness that transforms the world.
(Isaiah 5: 1-7)
Let me now sing of my friend,
my friend’s song concerning his vineyard.
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.
Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard:
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes,
did it bring forth wild grapes?
Now, I will let you know
what I mean to do with my vineyard:
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.
The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his cherished plant;
he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed!
for justice, but hark, the outcry!
(Psalm 80: 9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20)
(Philippians 4: 6-9)
Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters,
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.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me.
Then the God of peace will be with you.
(Matthew 21: 33-43)
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“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.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”