Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:33-43; 4 October 2020; 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s first reading from Isaiah and gospel passage from Matthew both describe vineyards. The purpose of a vineyard is to grow grapes in order to produce wine. Throughout the bible, wine is seen as a sign of celebration and joy. When the biblical authors try to describe God’s kingdom, they frequently include an abundance of wine. Therefore, wine means that things are as they should be, that God’s will is being done, that there is reason to rejoice.
This leads us to the problem in today’s readings, because neither of the two vineyards produce wine. And they fail to do so because of different reasons. Isaiah’s vineyard does not produce wine because the grapes are bad. The vineyard has grown wild grapes. Matthew’s vineyard fails to produce wine because the tenants refuse to hand over the produce for processing. So, in Isaiah’s story the problem is the grapes. In Matthew’s the problem is the tenants. These are problems of a different order. If the grapes are bad, there is nothing you can do. You can’t make wine out of wild grapes. But if the problem is the tenants, you can make wine, if the tenants agree to change.
When we experience a problem in our lives, a lack of wine, there are some things that we cannot change, but other things that we can. Our ability to follow Jesus depends on us knowing the difference. This truth is captured in the famous Serenity Prayer that is used frequently in Alcoholics Anonymous: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
When there is a lack of wine, a lack of goodness, a lack of joy in ours lives, we are called to respond with serenity and courage, depending on what is possible.
If you feel an emptiness in your marriage, a growing stress, and you begin to question the long-term viability of your union, you cannot change your personality or the personality of your spouse. You cannot erase the mistakes that were made in the past. But you can find the courage to keep dialogue open, to seek counseling, and to move as much as possible towards forgiveness.
If we are worried about the civil unrest in our cities, associated with issues of racism, we cannot remove the stain of slavery from American history, nor can we bring back the lives of those who were killed in urban violence. But we can find the courage to admit how we benefit from racist structures and to approach the issue of racism seeking understanding, rather than simply venting our frustration and anger.
If we believe that things are wrong with the policies of our country concerning abortion, immigration, or the environment, we cannot ourselves change policy and law. But we can find the courage to express our convictions in honest discussions with others and exercise our responsibility to vote in the upcoming election.
When there is a lack of wine, a lack of goodness, a lack of joy, it is time to ask God for serenity, courage, and wisdom: the serenity to accept those things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.