When we open the Scriptures, we open a world of story, poetry and metaphor. Origen, a Third Century theologian, likens the Bible to a mansion. The various books of the Bible are doors which we need to unlock. Outside each door is a key which will unlock one door. Our task is to match each key to a door. This can be the work of a life time. In public liturgy the Church will help us to open a door by laying Bible passages side by side. We can see this very clearly in today’s Liturgy of the Word.
We begin with a passage from the First Book of Isaiah. The first thing to note is that this is a song, a love song for God’s vineyard. It tells the story of God’s relationship with Israel. Every care has been lavished on Israel. The vineyard is God’s pride and joy:
He dug the soil, cleared it of stones
and planted choice vines in it.
The love song changes to a lament as things haven’t gone according to plan. God expects a fruitful harvest and instead finds only ‘sour grapes’. God threatens to destroy the vineyard.
When we come to read the Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard Isaiah’s imagery gives us one interpretative key. It isn’t a perfect fit. Unlike in Isaiah’s song, destruction of the vineyard itself is not part of the parable, but instead judgement at the way in which the tenants have managed it is. This doesn’t make for very comfortable reading at all. What message can we take from this? Most commentaries will suggest that Jesus is speaking principally to the faith leaders. If we take this at face value, then this lets us nicely off the hook. Very few of us are faith leaders. We have to mine a bit deeper. The texts from Isaiah and Matthew share a background in covenantal theology. God’s self gift in the Torah and the Incarnation bind us in relationship. God has taken the initiative and awaits our response. God has entrusted us with the ‘vineyard’ of baptism, family, community, personal vocation and many more things. Each gift has built into it the dynamic of call and response.
What fruit will God find in your ‘vineyard’?