by Father Mike Stubbs
It is no accident that we hear Scripture readings with the image of vineyeards during this time of year. After all, this is the time for the grape harvest. This is the time for making wine.
Kansas is known more for its wheat harvest than for wine, even though there are a few vineyards in the area. We are more likely to think of France or Italy or Spain as producing wine.
Once, when I was traveling in a part of France noted for its wine and visiting a cathedral there, I took some time to admire its stained-glass windows. One window in particular stood out. It showed Christ being put to death for us.
But, instead of being on a cross, Christ was wedged in a wine press, which was squeezing the blood out of him, the same blood we receive under the form of wine in the Eucharist. After all, wine is like the blood of the grape, which must be sacrificed to produce it.
We can represent Christ by the image of the grape, because Israel is often represented by the image of the vineyard. Just as the vineyard produces the grape, so also the people of Israel gave us Christ.
We see a good example of the image of the vineyard representing Israel in Sunday’s first reading, Is 5:1-7. The owner of the vineyard is disappointed in its crop and threatens to destroy the vineyard. When that threat climaxes with the sentence, “I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it,” it suggests that the owner of the vineyard is not just any ordinary human being.
The next sentence makes the owner’s identity absolutely clear: “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant.”
This image of the people of Israel as a vineyard provides the background for those parables of Jesus in which a vineyard plays a significant role, such as this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 21:33-43, as well as last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 20:1-16a.
Besides these parables of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus makes the claim that “I am the vine, you are the branches” in Jn 15:5. Once again, the image of the vineyard as representing Israel comes into play.
Clearly, this image of the vineyard as standing for the people of God is one that we cannot overlook.