Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we hear another parable, just as our Lord says. We recall that parables were our Lord’s preferred way of teaching, especially those outside the circle of His Disciples (Mt. 13:10-17; Mk. 4:10-12; Lk. 8:9-10). Unlike many of His other parables, He does not preface this one with that most familiar introduction, “’The Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven) is like . . . .,’” though we learn in verses just after our reading that this is, in fact, a parable of the Kingdom of God (Mt. 21:43-46).
Jesus is engaged in conversation with the religious leaders of Israel, the chief priests and the elders of the people, along with the Pharisees. He tells them a parable, using the image of a vineyard, an image long understood by its use in the Old Testament as that of Israel, the apple of God’s eye, His pleasant plant (Ps. 16 :8; Is. 5:1-7). Jesus tells us of a vineyard brought into existence by “’a certain householder’” or “’landowner.’” He does absolutely everything necessary to ensure the health and well-being of his vineyard, to make it fruitful and productive, a success, if you will. He hedges it around setting its boundaries. He digs a winepress for the anticipated harvest. He builds a tower to keep watch over his vineyard. And, finally, he “’lets’” it out or leases it to others, like him, who will tend it, oversee it, and “’render him the fruits in their seasons.’” The householder goes into a far country entrusting his vineyard into the care of the vinedressers or “’husbandmen.’”
So, we see from this parable thus far that vineyards just don’t happen; they don’t come about or spring up willy-nilly without someone intentionally and purposefully cultivating them. They are designed and built by a master designer. Secondly, this vineyard is leased to vinedressers who are not owners of the vineyard. They are, for all intents and purposes, tenant farmers, who live there and work the earth, prune the vines, keep out scavengers and others who might spoil the crops, and then take in the harvest. They are to return to the rightful and true owner of the vineyard the fruits of his vineyard which is their duty and obligation, if not by contractual agreement, then by covenant faithfulness (Mt. 21:28-32; Lk. 17:10).
This arrangement sounds and smells an awful lot like the story of the Garden in Eden, doesn’t it? And,
The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man (Adam) whom He had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, . . . And a river went out of Eden to water the garden, . . . And the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress and to keep it (Gn. 2:8-15).
God takes care of everything out of His providence, doesn’t He? Why? Because “He is a good God and loves mankind.” All Adam is to do is be a steward of the Garden he has been blessed to live in. In fact, Adam is more than a steward. He is the protector of the holy precinct of the Garden where he and God commune, much like the Levites who were charged with the care and protection of the Tabernacle and later, the Temple (Nm. 3:7-8). The Garden is the vineyard of the Lord, the temple of creation, in which God has placed Adam, not merely to play at horticulture, but to be the tenant-priest of God, rendering to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, offering up to God “’the fruits in their seasons.’”
But, what happens in the parable? Almost predictably, those vinedressers charged to be stewards, shirk their responsibilities and presume themselves to be masters of the vineyard and its owners. They take matters into their own hands without deference to the vineyard’s rightful owner and seek to hoard the fruits of the vineyard for themselves. The householder, looking, for what was rightfully his, dispatches, first, one servant, then another. And, each time, the servants are mistreated, brutalized, abused, and some even murdered. In a spirit of defiance fed by the delusion of their own importance and place in the vineyard, they rebel and become unwitting participants in the ancient rebellion of the evil one and perpetrators of the same revolt against the goodness of God our Benefactor! Indeed, the ultimate insult and atrocity is to shed the blood of the householder’s son whom they do not reverence. They presume that his death will guarantee their inheritance and defeat the owner of the vineyard.
This is the sin of Cain against Able. Cain failed to render the firstfruits as a respectable offering to God while Able “brought of the firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof.” Instead of repenting and offering rightly unto the Lord, Cain chose rather to rise up in anger and jealousy against his brother, and he murdered him. Cain was presumptuous and arrogant. He did not fear God, nor in faith and love did he draw near unto the Lord, but took matters into his own hands, yielding to the sin crouching at the door, as God had forewarned him (Gn. 4:1-16).
This sin is repeated down through the ages, ultimately culminating in the unjust slaying of the Lamb of God, the only-begotten Son of God the Father, Jesus Christ. He is the One “’cast out of the vineyard’” and slain, Who “suffered outside the gate” at the hands of sinners who sought His blood, even daring audaciously to implore that the blood of the innocent Son of God and Lamb of the Virgin be upon them and their children (Mt. 27:25; Hb. 13:12)! God had provided all things necessary for the health and salvation of His people: the Law of the Covenant, the Tabernacle and Temple, the priesthood and sacrifices, the Altar, the Prophets, and the Angels (Theophylact of Ochrid). But God’s people crucified God in the flesh believing this was right and good! What God expected from His vineyard and from those to whom He had entrusted it were the fruits of righteousness and justice, of love and compassion, mercy and humility (Is. 5:1-7; Mc. 6:8). What God expected was the harvest of sacrifice and the praise of thanksgiving manifested in and extended by right living. What God the vineyard Owner expected was Covenant faithfulness. He Who is holy calls forth holiness from His people (Lv. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Pe. 1:15-16). Why? Because God created man in His own image and likeness, to partake of God’s own divine nature, to be by the grace of God’s Holy Spirit just like God (Gn. 1:26-27; WS 2:23; 2 Pe. 1:4).
The Evangelist notes in the final verses of this chapter of the parable that the chief priest and Pharisees “perceived” that this parable was about them and their failed tending to the vineyard of Israel (Mt. 21:45). There is a great weight upon those called by God to tend the tender vine of His vineyard (1 Cr. 16:13-24; Hb. 13:17; Jm. 3:1), and they will come under greater scrutiny when the Lord returns.
But, this parable is also about us, about all who share in the tenant-priesthood of Adam by virtue of our creation, redemption, and sanctification through the blood of the Lamb of God. We have been baptized in the saving waters of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have been chrismated with the oil of the Holy Spirit. We eat and drink the very Body and Blood of God sacrificed on the Cross and raised on the third day. We have been set in the vineyard of the Lord, that is, in His Church, and He has provided well for us all things necessary for our salvation and sanctification: the Church and her Mysteries, the Holy Gospel, the priesthood, the worship of the saints to the glory of God Almighty, the Faith once delivered to the saints, the Holy Tradition, which is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. We share as vinedressers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam. Our calling as vinedressers in the vineyard of the Church in which we have been set by the hand of our good God Who loves mankind is but one calling: to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” Who is the “Living Stone, rejected by . . . men, but chosen by God and precious” (1 Pe. 2:4-10). This is the same Stone spoken of by our Lord this morning. “’[W]hosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken [in repentance]; but on whomsoever It shall fall, It will grind him to powder [in judgment]’” (Mt. 21:44). In all of this, beloved, what does the Lord of the vineyard ask of us but to “’bring forth fruits worthy of repentance’” (Mt. 3:8; Lk. 3:8). These are “the fruits of righteousness,” spoken of by St. Paul elsewhere, “which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Pp. 1:11).
‘There was a certain householder who planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen and went into a far country. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits thereof.’
“’He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,’” lest “’the Kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof’” (Mt. 21:43; Rv. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Cr. 16:13-24