If you’ve ever been to a vineyard, you’ll know that it’s an immense operation where each piece from the soil to the seeds, water and sun must be just right for the grapes the planter intended to grow. Yet, even when the conditions are perfect, when everything is done just right, often the perfect wished-for grapes do not appear. In their place, rotten grapes—unrecognizable to their grower. Today’s First Reading from Isaiah tells us such a story. A vineyard owner who poured his entire self into his vineyard, taking every care and precaution to get it “right,” who then sat back to watch for his harvest of perfect grapes. (Isaiah 5:2)
Perfect grapes never came. Only the rotten grapes which caused despair and resentment.
Today’s First Reading makes me think of a trend we all yearn to believe in: if we only do things “the right way” or the “Godly way” our lives will be free of suffering and only cherished grapes will grow in our vineyards. As if there were steps to suffer-proof our relationships, our children’s lives. But this is not the way of the Cross.
Sisters, when we adopt this way of thinking, we are that vine-grower thinking if we follow all the right steps, we will receive the grapes we long for. If we say the right prayers, buy the right books, surround ourselves with the right people and things, then we will not suffer, our children will be holy, and surely those terrible things that happen to other people will not befall us.
Yet, we worship the Christ who was unjustly executed by the wicked tenants of the vineyard in the parable in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew today, the very same vineyard that God planted in the book of Isaiah. (Matthew 21:33-41). Christ was a man who surely did everything the right way. What makes us think that following Christ is a blueprint for success on Earth and the choicest grapes overflowing our vineyards?
Christ himself tells us that He is the true vine, and we are branches. The grapes we long for can only grow when we are grafted in our very souls onto the vine. The wild grapes of disappointment, death, loss and pain will follow the length of our days. Yet in being grafted more fully onto the true vine, these wild grapes will not cease in coming. Yet growing slowly, humbly alongside them, will be the grapes of virtue —the sweetest of them all.
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Do you have a crucifix? Today turn your gaze upon Jesus on the cross and share your suffering with Him. He understands and walks this road suffering with you.
Sarah Babbs is a writer and mother of three, including twin toddlers. She writes about faith, social teaching, and navigating life as a motherless daughter and mother. You can find out more about her here.