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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Tough talk breaks through the barriers of our sins

The first and third readings for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time may be considered tough talk for tough times. But, behind the tough talk is an infinitely loving God who so dearly desires that all mankind receive and live the invitation to come into the Father's kingdom for all eternity. Sometimes it takes tough talk to break through the barriers our sins create.

God — the source of all life, goodness and love — didn't have to create mankind but chose to do so to share His Trinitarian life and love. He created man in freedom, with the power to accept or reject the invitation to eternal life.

Again and again, Scripture uses the image of a vineyard to symbolize God's gathering of a people unto Himself, planting them, cultivating and pruning them with His word and nurturing them with divine grace. In the Song of Songs, the vineyard is the place where lovers would meet.

In a sense, this first reading is a love song celebrating God's love for the people He is courting to come into the kingdom of heaven.

Parables hold up a mirror to allow people to see themselves without being directly confronted.

The song of the vineyard describes God's meticulous work of planting in rich soil after He had cleared it of stones. He also built a watchtower and winepress. However, when He came to look for grapes, He only found wild grapes, which He didn't plant.

The prophet Isaiah then bluntly tells the people that it was God who formed the Jewish people, gave them land and firmly established His rule in their hearts, but now there is utter ruin. He asks, "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?"

Isaiah says, "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!"

God will allow the vineyard to be overgrown and eventually destroyed. The people of God needed an intervention to awaken them, and it came when they were led into exile. Eventually, God restores them in the Promised Land and out of their descendants is born Christ, our Savior.

The punishment of the exile isn't vindictive, but medicinal. There, they realize they have fallen away from God, and now they are paying the price. There, they yearn for the worship they had to leave behind in Jerusalem. They yearn again to worship God with harp and song. The songs of Sion continue to haunt them and serve to remind them of the Lover they have abandoned.

The parable of the vineyard in the Gospel is similar to the parable of Isaiah, but far more hard-hitting. The Jewish leaders recognize that when Jesus refers to the tenants as the ones who killed the son of the vineyard's owner, He is referring to them.

He then bluntly tells the Jews, "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce fruit." Jesus uses this tough talk in order to jolt them out of their sinful ways. Ultimately, the Gospel was given to the Gentiles, while remaining available to Jews who chose to accept it.

Behind these parables is a God who is relentless and adamant in trying to break through the barriers of agnosticism, atheism, secularism, consumerism, abortion and the incessant worship of pleasure as a god.

These aren't values that lead to a relationship with God or eternal life. Today, the darkness in society isn't letting up nor is the persecution of religion.

To respond with hate is tempting but so futile. That isn't the answer. In a sense, we should rejoice when religious freedoms are attacked, because it gives us more opportunities to witness to our attackers that we are followers of Jesus who died for our salvation and for their salvation. We want their salvation, not just the condemnation of their behavior.

Our real opposition is not those who oppose Gospel values, but the evil one who has them under his sway. We need to do more than save the unborn. We need to save those who foster the destruction of the unborn. This raises our eyes beyond the flesh and blood we see before us, to the invisible evil one who has them under his sway.

There is a sense that as the world gets darker, our light becomes brighter and brighter. This will only intensify our opportunity to witness to the values of Jesus in the Gospel.

Having said that, what about witnessing to those friends and acquaintances that have drifted away from Church? Why not get to them with a friendly invitation before they are overcome with darkness? "Live and let live" is a serious sin when it involves the loss of salvation of friends and acquaintances.

How will we ever have the courage to die for our faith if we are too embarrassed to live for it, to witness to our friends about Jesus' desire to share with them His love and mercy? The coming darkness is simply an opportunity to rejoice that Jesus considers us worthy to watch Him do His work in and through our witness to Him. 

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