As we join together to celebrate Oktoberfest at the Church of St. Matthew, I want to welcome the different communities that are a part of our St. Matthew family: Current Parishioners, Casa Guadalupana, Community of Saints Regional Catholic School, West Side Summit Charter School, Loaves & Fishes, St. Mary’s Health Clinic, Neighborhood House, and the People of Praise. I also want to welcome former parishioners from the Church of St. Matthew and St. Michael as well as our St. Paul neighbors and business partners. When we gather to celebrate long-time relationships that are nurtured by our faith and trust in each other, we become a song whose melody, rhythm, and words somehow speak to our brains and touch our souls. A song can bring a tear to our eyes, a smile to our faces, change our mood for better or for worse, and calm our thoughts.
Knowing that music has the capacity to soothe even the most savage of beasts, the Prophet Isaiah wrote a lullaby about a vineyard that we heard in the first reading today. A song is written about a vineyard because at the time the prophet lived, grapes and wine represented happiness and joy—something that we human beings certainly like to sing about. Even though grains, like barley and wheat, were the principal foods of the time, the fact that the prophet talked about the people of Israel not as God’s field of grain but rather as God’s vineyard suggests an extraordinary goodness of life they had with God. While bread fed the people on a day to day basis, grapes and wine celebrated their lives with God. Grapes and wine enabled the Israelites to be joyous in the many blessings that God had given to them.
The purpose of Isaiah’s lullaby is to first invite the Israelites to remember the blessings they have received from God and then to pass judgment on themselves as to whether or not they have responded whole heartedly to God’s generosity. The prophet’s song is like the traditional American lullaby Hush Little Baby.
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.
Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird won’t sing,
Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring turns brass,
Papa’s gonna buy you a looking glass
And if that looking glass gets broke,
Papa’s gonna buy you a billy goat
And if that billy goat won’t pull,
Papa’s gonna buy you a cart and bull
And if that cart and bull turn over,
Papa’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover
And if that dog named ‘Rover’ won’t bark
Papa’s gonna buy you a horse and cart
And if that horse and cart fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.
After papa buys the baby a mocking bird, a diamond ring, a looking glass, a billy-goat, and a cart and bull, and a dog named ‘Rover’, papa knows but the infant has to decide with his or her own free will whether or not he or she will be the sweetest little baby in town.
In the gospel reading today, Jesus recalls the lullaby of Isaiah and makes it into a parable. The purpose of the parable is to again invite the Israelites to remember the blessings they have received from God and then to pass judgment on themselves as to whether or not they have responded whole heartedly to God’s generosity.
I believe that we as hearers of the song and the parable are challenged to reflect on how we live the love of God in our homes, our places of employment, and our neighborhoods? Maybe our billy-goat stubbornness, our bull in the china closet assertiveness, and our clear as glass perfectionism has somehow overshadowed the love of God rather than bring the love of God to others? Our stubbornness, our forcefulness, and our perfectionism have become ends rather than means for bringing the love of God to our world by working for gospel justice and equity for all.
In the words of the gospels, good fruit comes from our willingness to be salt, light, and servant for others and to be untiring champions of the poor; the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. We don’t have to go out into the streets of St. Paul or anyone of the many suburbs. We don’t have to travel to the farthest reaches of world. All we have to do is listen and look around us to find people who need our persistence, who need our boldness, and who need our thoroughness to help them through the difficulties of their lives.
Today’s readings challenge us to see how good God has been to us and to ask ourselves how we have responded and will respond by bringing God’s goodness to others through the love songs that we sing.
Fr. Bob Kelly