Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a
Psalm 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21
Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
The readings of today are all closely linked. Their purpose is to strengthen our faith in God’s complete love for us in spite of the sufferings and despair we may undergo. In fact, they prompt us to see that these very sufferings are a sign of that love – that through them we can become one with Christ and so enter with him into everlasting glory.
We begin with the very human story of Joseph, the youngest and most favored son of Israel (Jacob). That very favor, shown so extravagantly and imprudently by his father, prompted all his brothers to turn against him. In fact they came to hate him and waited for a chance to kill him. When that chance came, they hesitated to spill his blood. Instead they sold him to travelling merchants who will sell him again in Egypt.
The responsorial psalm continues the story. Praising the hidden workings of God, it reminds us of the calamities that Joseph bore in his days in Egypt. In chains as a slave, he was thrown a number of times into the royal prison. But clinging faithfully and openly to his God, he was able by his gifts of prophecy to find favor with the Pharaoh himself. He became the savior of his brothers and his father, and of his people Israel. For this God had let him be dragged down into Egypt: "Remember the marvels the Lord has done!"
In the gospel we leave Joseph, the symbol and pre-figure of Christ the Messiah, for the actual person of Jesus himself. Jesus, surrounded by his enemies as well as his disciples, tells them a parable. Starting with the image of the winepress taken from Isaiah, clearly and pointedly, Jesus makes it a parable about his own life. It is the story of the patient, loving mercy and goodness of the landowner abused by the base ingratitude, greed, and cruelty of his tenants. It ends in the tenants’ violent murder of the owner’s son, drawing down a terrible vengeance upon the tenants themselves. Quoting from Psalm 118, a psalm of praise for the great wonders done by God, Jesus makes clear his meaning: – He is the rejected stone who, in spite of all his sufferings, and by this very rejection, will become the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God.
In the gospel Jesus himself is telling us that the terrible passion and death he is about to enter is indeed terrible – it is indeed real. But it is not the end: through this self-surrender he will enable his Father to raise him up to everlasting glory – and to raise us with him. Contemplating Jesus’ own life and death in the story of the winepress, let us try to join our own difficulties, hardships and sufferings with his. May the Holy Spirit deepen our faith and trust in the unfailing love of God for us, who "so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son; so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life."
Br. Peter A. Fitzpatrick, CFX, a Xaverian Brother, is a Passionist Associate at Ryken House, across the creek from the Passionist Monastery, in Louisville, Kentucky.