Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43
A vineyard wakes to new life in Spring. Tiny buds appear on the bare branches and before long the whole vineyard is a blaze of delicate green soaking up sunlight and air. Deep in the soil the roots drink in the rain and search for the minerals needed to form the rich fruit of the harvest. The vineyard belongs to the Master. It is to his glory that it yields a bountiful harvest.
You are the vineyard. Yes, you! And me!
One day the Master will send his servants, the angels, to gather in the produce of the vineyard. That will be a day of intense joy for some and a day of shame for others.
Yes, we are the Master's vineyard. And the vine he wishes to grow in us is Christ, his Son. This is the harvest he desires to find in us on that day. To put it simply we must 'bear' Christ in ourselves; Jesus must become himself in us so that all may become one in him. What a wonderful thought!
Through Baptism Jesus was 'planted' in us. Through the other Sacraments (Confirmation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick) his life, his presence, is strengthened in us. Through Reconciliation we are restored to this life should it be weakened or destroyed by sin. The Master has thought of everything and he looks forward to the harvest.
Still there is more we can do: prayer, penance, almsgiving, fasting, spiritual reading, service of neighbour, evangelisation of our culture. The tenant's work is never done.
In the time remaining I wish to be very practical and offer you an implement, a 'gardening tool', for your work in the vineyard. It is a Bible.
Not so long ago Pope Benedict said '…I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of "Lectio divina": "the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer …" If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church -- I am convinced of it -- a new spiritual springtime.'
Prayer is real 'labouring in the vineyard' and lectio divina is a form of prayer as powerful as it is simple. It is a really good 'spade' or 'hoe'.
Without prejudicing any other form of prayer I'll try to give a glimpse, just a glimpse, of this ancient method of prayer which, coincidentally, solves many of the problems associated with daily prayer - like the question of distractions, routine, what do I do? what do I say? - and so on.
A Bible is the word of God. This fact is basic. When we read Scripture God is speaking. We don't need visions or locutions because here God is speaking.
The word of God is also, and at the same time, the action of God. Everywhere we read: God said ... and so it was. In the Bible the word of God continues his work and goes on creating, healing, loving, strengthening, forming, comforting, correcting and disturbing us.
Where the word of God is, living, active, powerful, God himself is not far away, in fact he is truly present.
When we read the Bible we are looking for the Lord and, if we are faithful to our daily reading, we will most certainly will find him. He will open our eyes to his presence and cause us to realise that, in fact, he is never absent.
Let me give you a simple image. You're on a railway platform waiting for the train. Are you really waiting for the train? No, you are really waiting for the arrival of the person who is on the train. It would be silly if the train pulled in and we all stood around admiring the train and ignoring the passenger.
Admiring the train is what's called Bible Study. Lectio Divina is searching for the passenger. And you know which passenger I mean, don't you?
The Bible is also like a huge house occupied by a vast number of the most interesting and wonderful (for the most part) people you could ever meet. In this house live Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Sarah, Joshua, Saul, David, Rebecca, Esther, prophets, kings, judges, men and women and lots of children.
Do you know these people? You should. They are the ones who preceded us in the faith and as we watch them living out their faith, with all their difficulties and trials and human weaknesses and fears we quickly come to realise that their lives are our lives - they are our elder brothers and sisters - that we are really looking at ourselves. As they learn about God, so do we. As they experience his love and mercy, so do we. As they hear the word of correction, so do we.
Have you ever been with Adam and Eve under the tree being tempted by the serpent? Have you ever stood with the People on the shores of the Red Sea trapped between the waters and the angry Egyptians? Have you ever celebrated the second Passover - in the total peace and safety of the 'desert of Sinai' in the wonderful 'twilight of the evening'?
We end with a thought from Psalm One:
Happy the man who ... finds his pleasure in the Law of Yahweh, and meditates on his law day and night. He is like a tree that is planted by water streams, yielding its fruit in season, its leaves never fading ...