Watching for the morning of October 5
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27
As the liturgical year draws to a close, the Gospel readings in this year of Matthew come from Jesus in Jerusalem. Matthew places quite a bit of material in this last week of Jesus’ life, most of it a bitter attack against the chief priests and Pharisees, the elite members of Jerusalem society who govern both temple and nation.
When Matthew assembles his Gospel it is after the city and temple have been destroyed. Between Jesus and these Judean leaders, two visions of Israel’s God and faith are clashing: one centered in the temple and ritual law; the other centered in justice and mercy and God’s healing of his creation.
It is difficult to be an “established church,” one of the mainline denominations, when Jesus is brutally confronting the betrayal of God’s will by those who claim God’s name. Such words are not directed at a false religion of the past, but what is false in our own religious institutions. We have a remarkable ability to turn this Gospel, this message of the dawning reign of God, the dawning transformation of the world, into a sturdy defense of conventional morality and piety.
But in the midst of this season of tough words confronting our tendency towards religious systems that maintain society rather than transform it, we take time in this first Sunday of October to remember St. Francis and the blessing of the animals.
We are not going to skip over the tough words of Jesus. But we are going to remember that these tough words are spoken on behalf of a God who formed the world in beauty and love and is calling us to abide in that beauty and love.
The Prayer of the Day for the Sunday of October 5, 2014 (proper 22/Lectionary 27)
God of mercy, Lord of all,
you have made us to be your vineyard, your field,
your heart and hands and voice in the world.
Govern our hearts and minds by your Holy Spirit,
that our lives might bear forth the fruit of your kingdom;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Prayer of the Day for the Blessing of the Animals
Gracious and eternal God,
who formed and fashioned a good and perfect world for us to share,
speak anew your word of blessing
and send forth your Spirit to renew the seas and the land and our hearts
that all creation might join in praise to you.
The Texts for the Sunday of October 5, 2014 (proper 22/Lectionary 27)
First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7
“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.” – The prophet sings of his “beloved” who tenderly cared for his vineyard only to have it yield bitter grapes and invites the people of Judah to judge whether he is not justified in tearing it down.
Psalmody: Psalm 80:7-15
“You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it… Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?” – The psalm uses the image of Israel as a vine, brought out of Egypt and planted in a good land, and laments that the vineyard has been breached and ravaged by the wild beasts – a metaphor for the destruction of the nation.
Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” – Paul declares that he considers all his righteousness under the law as worthless compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus and his righteousness.
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46
“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.” – Taking up the conventional imagery of Israel as God’s vineyard from Isaiah and the psalms, Jesus tells a story of an absentee landlord whose tenants refused to give to their master the fruit they owed him. The tenants rebel and kill the son in order to claim the vineyard for themselves, but are ultimately destroyed and the vineyard given to others.
Texts in the liturgy for the Blessing of the Animals:
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.” – The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’” – Isaiah’s vision of the earth healed and restored to the innocence of Eden, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”