Today’s readings: Isaiah 5, 1-7; Philippians 4, 6-9; Matthew 21, 33-43.
‘Aesthetics’ is a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of art, beauty and taste. It is related to our capacity of judgement where sentiment and taste are concerned. It is not just about how we build, but also and perhaps mostly, about how we are built and how the way we live expresses truly and fully the human spirit.
It is precisely about this that St Paul, in today’s second reading from Philippians, writes: “Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought of as virtuous or worthy of praise”. This is actually a recipe of how to live aesthetically; how to fully respect the architecture of life.
When in life we lose the measure of what is beautiful and ugly, we end up exchanging what is beautiful for what is ugly, and vice versa. We would be lacking the compass that makes us really feel, and have the right intuitions about what makes life beautiful and worthwhile, and what instead destroys the taste of life.
In an age that is radically and broadly turning digital, we are constantly presented with endless opportunity, but also with startling existential questions. We are undoubtedly becoming more knowledgeable, rational, scientific, and perhaps even more aware of our deepest desires. Yet in the depth of our own selves, many a time we have the feeling that something we cannot identify with precision is lacking.
In the recent past of humanity, science and reason hailed the dawn of a modern and humanist age which unfortunately and tragically was overshadowed by Gulags and holocausts, which is still distorted by the brutal displacement of entire peoples, and with violence and brutality that seem never to abate.
What happened and is still happening on a cultural and global level, inevitably impacts on our own selves and on the way we care for our humanity if we fail to be on guard for the values that make life more aesthetic. We are all, to some extent, the architects of our lives, and the Scriptures today warn about the consequences both of wrong decisions and indecision where life is concerned.
The central theme in Isaiah and in St Matthew’s parable is the vineyard turned wasteland. Almost romantically, the prophet Isaiah is singing the song of God’s love and care for us. The Lord ceaselessly ‘plants choice vines’ in our lives. But how easy it is and how painful when the end product is ‘sour grapes’.
“The unexamined life is not worth living”, runs the dictum by Socrates. Today’s Scriptures are an invitation precisely to learn how to constantly examine life. It is a major challenge today, the way we live, to find and discover ways how to “guard our hearts”, as St Paul writes. If unguarded, if we let go of what is true and noble, or of what is virtuous and worthy of praise, we risk taking as true what is fake, nourishing our hearts with what is not nourishing at all.
Those are the ‘sour grapes’ Isaiah speaks about, the end product of a life when, what we have gratuitously received is not guarded. In our life journeys, there is no guarantee that once you belong, you will always belong. We experience this in our loves, in our relationships, and in our way of relating to God.
The vineyard turned wasteland is the tragedy we go through in life, personally and socially, when we just let ourselves be carried away by all that is fake and futile, and have nothing to firmly grip onto. We need to discern wisely what makes of us virtuous people, what enhances life aesthetically, what is it we need to safeguard in life that makes of us tenants of the Lord’s vineyard ‘who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives’.
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