Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, year A, October 8, 2017
Isaiah speaks symbolically, starting with a pleasant pastoral image, telling a story that takes two surprising twists.
Of all the churches addresed by Paul, the Philippians received the gospel most enthusiastically and supported Paul's missions most vigorously. The Apostle expected the most from them. From prison, where he knows he might never leave, Paul writes them a fond farewell.
Saint Matthew's community were Jews who had become Christians. But they still had to deal with Jews who had not accepted Jesus. Their refusal confounded the believers. It helped them to remember some of Jesus' parables and applications of their Scriptures to similar questions.
The Historical Situation: In the late eighth century B.C.E., God's people in the promised land had become divided into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah (where Jerusalem was the capital). Assyria was the dominant power in the region, and lay especially heavily on the northern kingdom. Concerned about both kingdoms, Isaiah prophesies relief for both in this way: A new king will come to the throne in the southern kingdom, Judah, and will see to the reunion of the north and south and the expulsion of the Assyrians from the north. However, in the early chapters of this book, the prophet is not criticizing the foreign oppressors, but his own unfaithful people.
A Favorite Literary Devices of the Prophets: A footnote in The New Jerusalem Bible says this of the vineyard image:
Isaiah's Plan and Your Proclamation: So the grapevine images in this reading and today's gospel stand for real people defying their real God. The prophet feels God's frustration in his own heart, and expresses that emphatically. What you want to convey, as lector, is Isaiah's feeling, "I've got to let these people know the seriousness of their sin." Follow the prophet's lead:
The Historical Background: The Christians at Philippi had received the gospel enthusiastically and continued to support Paul after he had evangelized them. The Apostle had great affection for the Philippians, as the intimate tone of this letter shows. In today's passage he shows his high expectations for them. (Paul loved all his congregations, but didn't have the same deep affection or high expectations for them all. See the letters to the Galatians and the Corinthians.) Prior chapters have some theological highlights and a moving autobiographical passage. This last chapter, as with most of Paul's letters, contains moral instruction and particulars that pertain to individuals in the addressed community.
The phrases "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, ..." are a kind of list used by Greek moralists of the time. But Paul returns to his usual style when, in the next sentence, he says "Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me."
Proclaiming It: To capture the Apostle's tone when you proclaim this, imagine yourself saying a fond farewell (Paul was in prison, perhaps facing execution, when he wrote this) to a small group of beloved intimates. You need not imagine your deathbed; you could pretend to be a beloved college professor at retirement time, or a parent on the eve of your child's wedding. Just do what it takes to make your congregation feel loved, that you believe in them, that they're capable of whatever is true, honorable and gracious.
Vineyards with Their Watch Towers, detail, between 1886 and 1889, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1836-1902, French. The drawing is now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, U.S.A. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License. Click here for links to larger versions of the complete drawing.
The Wikipedia article about the artist says that in 1885, he experienced a revival of his Catholic faith and spend the rest of his career depicting Biblical scenes.
Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.
This page updated August 1, 2017