The acclaimed youth fiction author, Gary Paulsen, describes in the novel, Cookcamp, some sad and very difficult moments in his childhood. The novel is not completely autobiographical, but tells a story of a boy who is essentially neglected as a child by his mother, and with his father fighting in WWII, longs to receive attention and love from his parents.
Eventually, the boy is sent to live with his grandmother in Canada, and even though he is dreading the move, his grandmother puts him to work, and he surprisingly begins to find peace in his life. She is cooking for nine men who are working hard building a huge road in a rural part of Northern Minnesota. The boy helps prepare the meals, works on the road, and receives the care and affection he was originally looking for in his parents.
Sometimes in life we meet individuals that encourage us to achieve beyond what we think is possible. We realize through these individuals, our own gifts, and fully live out our God-given dignity by developing virtue, and contributing to the community.
“Virtue” is a word that means excellence in using our God-given gifts for the good of ourselves and others. We are designed for perfection. Jesus even tells us in the Gospel of Matthew, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Yet, sometimes through our own lack of self-esteem, and a lacking of love, we fail to realize our potential because we set limitations on what we can achieve. And when we know we are not reaching our potential as Christians, we fail to find peace in our lives.
We need nourishment from God, to do His will in our lives, and to find, everlasting peace. In our first reading, Isaiah discusses a vineyard that has been well nourished. And despite everything that the owner did to nourish the vineyard, it still bore rotten fruit.
The fruit was not receptive to the nutrients of the vine. Of course, Isaiah is using the symbols of the vineyard and the fruit as a representation for how God has nourished and fed the chosen people of Israel, but they have been unwilling to receive the nutrients given them. Jerusalem, the Holy City, will indeed perish for not following Yahweh’s instructions. For being unwilling to be fed by God.
In the Book of Judges, we see a common pattern for the ancient people of Israel. First they fall into temptation and end up worshiping false gods. Then, another nation conquers them and oppresses them. Third, they cry out to God asking for His mercy. Fourth, God sends a deliverer to rescue them from their enemies. Fifth, a period of peace ensues.
But peace only ensues, after a true acceptance of God and living out His commandments. Israel and Judah have not learned from the past mistakes of their ancestors.
The oppressor in the time of Isaiah is the nation of Assyria. The Assyrians were quickly establishing a world empire, and God wanted to defend them from this evil empire. He was at a loss though, because the Israelites had long abandoned God.
Isaiah primarily speaks of a sin of pride that was encompassing the Israelite people, particularly, in their leadership. The kings at the time were looking to form alliances with Egypt and Syria to combat the Assyrians, and the chosen people were quickly falling into the sins of idolatry, divination, and a desire to acquire material wealth as opposed to spiritual sanctity.
The people of chosen people of God, did not heed Isaiah’s warning, and eventually were conquered by the pagan, Assyrians, leading to unrest, not peace.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses similar imagery in His Parable of the Tenants. The vineyard in essence has been leased out to the Israelite leaders, the elders, the chief priests, the Pharisees. And every servant that God had sent to take care of the vineyard, was severely beaten, referring to God’s prophets, like the prophet, Isaiah.
Jesus Himself, the Son of God, is represented in the parable as the last sent, and of course, He is cruelly beaten and killed.
Both the first reading and the Gospel are a judgment on the people of Israel, for abandoning the ways of the Lord.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus discusses the cornerstone being rejected. Of course the cornerstone was the foundational structural point of the church that was able to hold the weight of all the other stones. When the cornerstone of the building is rejected, the building falls apart, because there is no foundation.
Peace is not possible without the firm foundation of Jesus Christ in our lives.
Are our lives built upon the firm cornerstone of Christ, or are we on a faulty foundation with our own sinful ideals?
Have we drifted away from God, and immersed ourselves in a desire for wealth and material possessions?
Have we been faithful to God’s commandments? Do we acknowledge sinful areas and addictions in our lives as keeping us away from our Creator, like pornography, or alcoholism or drug addiction? Have we stopped going to Church to worship on Sunday because we are simply too busy with our own business pursuits?
Does God take first place in our lives, or do sporting events take first place in our lives? Do we put business before God and family?
These are questions that we should be reflecting upon as we come closer to the end of the liturgical year.
Many children today, like the boy in the story, Cookcamp, do not receive the love and attention they need to grow in their Faith from their immediate family. Children today are desperate for true nourishment both physically and spiritually.
Ultimately, we make a choice to serve God and others, or serve ourselves.
We are called first to bear fruit in our own families, and then throughout our local communities. The Word of God, and the Holy Eucharist gives us all of the nourishment we need to have successful families. God’s Word and Sacrament sustains us so that we can live out the Gospel in our daily lives. There are so many ministries we can get involved in through our church, and make a difference in the lives of others. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians discusses the peace that we will receive from growing in virtue and doing God’s will.
We all want peace in our lives. We will achieve true peace, when we allow Christ to immerse us and nourish us each moment of our existence.
The great modern saint, Gemma Galgani describes it beautifully:
“Can you see that as soon as the day breaks, I think of you? As evening comes, I am near you? I am near you at every moment. I love you, Jesus.”
May the peace of Christ be with you in every moment of your day and every moment of your life.
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