Sour Grapes or Good Grapes? 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB – Twenty-Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Time – Year A
Sermon And Christian Act In The Word
Theme: The Sour Grapes! Am I the sour grape or good grape?
Point of Reflection: Am I a grateful person? For what or to whom have I said “thank you” since the beginning of this day? What are the good grapes that I produce as a follower of Jesus, and which are the sour grapes that I need to get rid of?
The theme for our reflection today is very interesting in that it raises the question: “What indeed can make us go against God’s ways or commands?” God, in his infinite mercy and love, cares, guides and protects us throughout our lives. But then, God also expects a fitting response to his gifts, and that response is to produce good fruits in life. Yet, so often and so surprisingly, we respond by producing “sour grapes”. The Scriptural readings of today testify to it.
First Reading: Isaiah 5:1–7
Psalm: Psalm 80:9, 12–16, 19–20
Second Reading: Philippians 4:6–9
Gospel: Matthew 21:33–43
Sermon (Reflection): In the first reading of today, the prophet Isaiah speaks on behalf of God, whom Isaiah calls “his beloved”. Using poetic language, he presents God as a vineyard owner who has gone to great lengths to develop and care for his vineyard, which represents the people of Israel living in two separate kingdoms – the Northern Kingdom called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom called Judah. Justly, God expected that those he had chosen, planted, protected and lovingly cared for would produce good fruit. Yet, they yielded only what the prophet calls “wild” or “sour grapes”. The prophet then invites the people to judge between the vineyard owner, God, and his vineyard. The judgement is obvious – the useless vineyard no longer deserves its owner’s attention and should be left unattended and unprotected.
We can ask ourselves today as Christians, are we sour grapes or good grapes? Our words and actions, the way we talk and behave can tell if we are sour or good grapes.
From the book of Prophet Isaiah, we can note that the unethical and excessive lifestyle of the elites brought disaster upon the entire nation because the leaders and many ordinary people, while enjoying the benefits of the well-kept “vineyard”, produced only sour grapes of unrighteousness and injustice. In the first reading, therefore, the “sour grapes” are a result of the shortsighted self-centeredness which prevents a person from using the benefits given to him or her for the advantage of the broader community.
In the Gospel reading of today, Matthew, like Isaiah, employs the image of the vineyard to continue with his stinging critique of the Jewish leadership. This time, he uses the story of workers to whom the landowner entrusted his vineyard. Just like in Isaiah, the landowner himself developed and secured the vineyard, and subsequently leased it to farmers. Yet, the very farmers who benefited from the owner’s work, chose to keep the entire produce for themselves and even killed the landowner’s servants. Eventually, intending to seize the vineyard for themselves, they even killed the owner’s son.
Once again, as in the passage from Isaiah, those about whom this parable was told were called to pass judgment. And again, the judgment was obvious, thus, the wicked tenants should be punished severely, and the vineyard should be taken away from them and entrusted to others. Hearing this correct judgment, Jesus proceeded to make the Jewish leaders aware that he was talking about them and about their rejection of himself as the rightful leader of the people of God.
In their rejection of Jesus, they mishandled the authority given to them and opposed God’s purpose of making Jesus the “cornerstone” upon which the new people of God were to be built.
Through this rejection, the Israelite leaders produced “sour grapes” of jealousy and violence in an attempt to keep the power and privilege which they enjoyed. In doing so, they became murderous villains. According to Jesus, God’s vineyard belongs to those who “produce the fruit of the kingdom of God”. This fruit is nothing else but the acceptance of Jesus as God’s Messiah, and living in conformity with his example and teaching.
The second reading of today comes from the concluding section of the letter to the Philippians where Paul issues a number of specific instructions regarding community life. As Christians, are we community-minded in our families, in our parish, in our diocese and even in our country?
St Paul, in the second reading, reminds us of the need to be optimistic and thankful, even in the midst of such difficult situations as described above. He reminds us of two very important things. First, we need to develop a good and harmonious relationship with God, which he calls peace. We can do this by prayer, supplication, and gratitude. If we develop these attitudes, then we can experience serenity.
The crises in our society can make us reject God’s ways because we feel bitterness or anger towards God for not acting. In the extreme, this makes youth join terrorist groups or take to substance abuse.
Rejection or acceptance of God’s ways is often a matter of an unconscious response to various situations and circumstances of life. The people at the time of Isaiah, particularly the ruling class, slid into a life of exploitation and unrighteousness, perhaps even without realising it. The well-being they were experiencing, blinded them to the wrongfulness of their ways and led them to produce “the sour grapes”.
Christian Act in Word of God “Sour grapes or good grapes”
As we have seen in the first reading, the people of Israel were flourishing politically and economically. However, it was only the rich who benefitted from this prosperity. The rich became richer and the poor were sliding into ever deeper poverty. A similar pattern can be seen in many societies today. God has indeed blessed us with rich human and natural resources but who are the beneficiaries of these resources? Of course, it is the elites in our societies, to the point that one wonders if these resources are truly a blessing from God or a curse. This is due to the fact that many leaders do not look at the common good of all. In this, they are producing sour grapes in the form of looting public funds, corruption and gross mismanagement. The resulting chaos leads to wars, terrorism and economic migration. Thus, the joy of living and being a youth in our land eludes us, and yet, we are the future leaders of this great continent.
As Christians, we need to be very attentive when we are doing well because we can forget about the source of our prosperity and begin to produce sour grapes that will nourish no one.
In the second reading of today, the apostle Paul makes two specific recommendations regarding good and harmonious relationships, which he refers to as “peace”. First, he focuses on peace with God. He recommends rejoicing, prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving as a way to experience peace that comes from God and leads to tranquillity in one’s heart. Paul knows fully well that problems and deficiencies experienced daily may easily lead a person into a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and bitterness towards everybody, including God. This results in constant grumbling, frustration and anger. These are the “sour grapes” which pollute the human heart and make a peaceful relationship with God impossible. By recommending the attitude of prayerful thankfulness, Paul aims to prevent such bitterness from arising in the hearts of his faithful.
Second, Paul makes a similar appeal with regard to peace with one another. What is true about the relationship with God is also true about the relationship to others. Speaking positively, Paul admonishes the Philippians to seek what is honourable, pure, pleasing, and commendable. In other words, a Christian should act in a manner that builds relationships. Instead of focusing on the imperfections of others, on what is negative and disruptive, a Christian should pay attention to what is positive and beneficial. Such focus will prevent bitterness and sour moods from disrupting the community.
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is meant specifically for those who produce good fruits. This entails accepting Jesus and following his example and teachings. His words are the sure way to become a vineyard that produces the sweet and desirable fruit that can make the world rejoice. Let us be good grapes not sour grapes.
Action: I will strive to bear good grapes, not sour grapes.
Prayer: Dear loving Father, you always love us as your children, help us dear Father not to be sour grapes but good grapes. Help us to be mindful of our actions and recognise you Lord as a loving Father. Our loving Father, we open our hearts to love you and one another in truth so that through your love we may be good grapes not sour grapes. We ask this through Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you, one God forever and ever, Amen.
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