HOMILY:SUNDAY 27 ‘A’ 2017
In ‘The CTS New Daily Missal’, the heading above today’s First Reading very properly reads: ‘The Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel’. But in an earlier edition of the Sunday Missal – the 1984 edition – the heading above the First Reading gets it wrong on more than one count: it has it as ‘The Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Lords’.
In both the First Reading today and in the Gospel we have the image of the Vineyard set before us: in the Old Testament it stands for the People of Israel; in the New Testament it stands for the Church. The Vineyard is a near perfect image for God’s People and the Church for this reason: in a Vineyard, it is God’s action that is primary – he provides the earth and the rain and the sun. They are all his gifts. But the grape harvest will not materialise without a lot of human labour: pruning, protecting from frost, dressing the vines, re-setting them and so on – and finally all the hard slog of harvesting.
A great Saint of the Eastern Church, St Symeon the New Theologian, has written about how this sort of ‘combined effort’ that is involved in farming speaks eloquently of how both God and ourselves, each of us, have our parts to play in the life of the Church and in our individual flourishing as Christians. He writes:
‘Just as the farmer wearies himself by merely ploughing, digging and sowing the seed, though it grows and produces fruit early and late by God’s gift – so it is in reality, as you will discover, in spiritual matters. It belongs to us to engage in every activity, and with much toil and weariness, and to sow the seeds of virtue – but by God’s gift and mercy alone the rain of his loving-kindness and grace falls and causes the unfruitful soil of our hearts to bear fruit’.
This is an important message for us today, as we begin our Parish Forty Hours’ Devotion. In the coming days, we shall be making a special effort to spend 40 hours praying before the Blessed Sacrament – praying especially for God’s blessing on those preparing for Ordination to the Priesthood – and praying for more vocations to the Priesthood and the Diaconate and the Religious and Monastic Life.
It will mean, in some measure, putting ourselves out – perhaps coming to church on days we don’t usually come to church. It will mean perhaps the effort of trying to stay awake when we would prefer to be dosing at home or watching TV. All that and more makes up the effort we are called on to invest in our prayer – it is the ‘raw material’, if you like, that we have to offer to God. But all the time we know too that our efforts alone will not ensure our students will stay the course – let alone that more vocations will come to fruition in the years ahead. That in the last analysis depends entirely on God – as St Symeon says, it depends on ‘the rain of his loving-kindness and grace falling on and causing the unfruitful soil of our hearts to bear fruit’.
So let us ask God now to strengthen our faith in his power – and at the same time to strengthen our wills so that we may come to church and stay faithfully in his Presence for the time we have pledged.