“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.”
Today’s readings from the Sunday liturgy are a contrast first in threat and warning, and secondly, loving advice. The gospel presents a parable about a landowner, his vineyard, and the tenants who work the vineyard. Only at the end do we hear that the vineyard is the kingdom of God, and the landowner obviously God. The tenants have been the people and especially the religious leaders who have not built the kingdom of God but their own domain. They have ignored or rejected the prophets and even God’s own Son. But hope is found in the words of the psalm (118) that “the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone” and that this was all God’s doing to bring good out of failure.
This parable is reflected in Isaiah today. This is a much more tender expression of God’s love for the people compared to the gospel parable. God says “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard.” The people have been unfaithful and are about to lose their land, their vineyard, to the invading Babylonians who will take the majority of the people into exile. There is sadness here because Jerusalem will soon be torn apart by great destruction. In the image of the vineyard, Israel has produced only wild grapes. God is portrayed as destroying them but they have done it to themselves.
Our second theme today comes from the letter of Paul to the Philippians. It is an encouragement to the community at Philippi to be faithful in living the Christian life. Paul first tells them to persevere in a life of prayer as a means of conquering all anxiety. This would seem to be an essential rock bottom piece of advice for all Christians today who are tempted to give in to fear and despair. Then Paul goes on to list several virtues that he connects with the gifts of God’s peace. He speaks of truth, honor, justice, beauty, and graciousness. He doesn’t merely list these virtues but he puts them forth in a poetic way – “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, … if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul’s advice is perhaps the antidote to the failures of the vineyard in Isaiah and the Gospel.