• Text of Gospel Reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is in our midst! This morning’s parable was told by our Lord in the company of the chief priests and elders in the temple. They’ve come to Him to demand to know by what authority He performs miracles and teaches the people. But instead of answering their question, He reveals to them by parables that they should know the answer to their own question. Many of the parables that Christ tells the religious leaders of the Jews compare the many graces given to the Jewish people by God with the lot of the Gentiles. The parable we hear in this morning’s Gospel is the second parable He tells in this discussion in the Temple. The first parable is of the man with two sons that he asks to go work in his vineyard. One says yes, but then doesn’t go. The other says no, but then decides to go. Christ is telling the leaders that while they serve God with their mouths, they don’t serve Him with their actions. And because of this, the people who once rejected the Hebrew God, the Gentiles, will be the ones to actually go and do His bidding in the world. This first parable ends with Christ saying: “Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John (the Baptist) came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not.” The ones who were supposed to be the leaders of the people were lost in sin, while those who seemed to be the worst sinners of all were turning their lives around in repentance. Then immediately on the heels of this first parable, without allowing any time for the scribes to respond, Jesus says, “Hear another parable.” And then He tells the parable we heard in this morning’s proclamation of the Holy Gospel. In this parable, Christ shows that though they were given enormous amounts of grace from God for the salvation of the people, the Jewish leaders have failed to properly steward this grace. “There was a certain man who planted a vineyard, and hedged it about, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it to husbandmen, and went into a far country.” The man is the Lord, who has planted the vineyard of the world. He has then hedged off a certain portion of it—the nation of Israel, the people being prepared to receive the Messiah. The hedge He places about the vineyard is the law, which keeps the chosen flock apart from all other flocks, the Gentiles. The winepress is the altar; where the fruit of the vineyard is to be offered back to the owner. The tower is the temple; the protection of the Lord and His presence, for His people. All that the vineyard needs to grow and be made into the final product is provided. And left in charge of the people are the husbandmen—the teachers of the people, the scribes and the Pharisees. And then God goes into a far country. Referring to the longsuffering of the Lord, not demanding an immediate account, not pursuing the wrong-doers, but giving the husbandmen time to prune and grow the flock. “And when the time of fruit drew near, the owner sent servants to the husbandmen to receive the fruit. But the husbandmen beat, stoned and killed the servants. So finally the owner sent His son, but the husbandmen killed the Son.” The nearing time of the harvest is the constant nearing to the time when the Messiah will come. So the Lord sent the prophets, to call the husbandmen to account, and to straighten out the situation in the vineyard. But the prophets were abused and beaten and stoned and even killed. So the Son of God came in the flesh, to offer the husbandmen and the people one last chance to settle accounts with the Lord. But the evil husbandmen threw Christ out of the vineyard—they carried Him out of the city of Jerusalem and crucified Him outside of the city walls on Golgatha’s hill. “When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do to those husbandmen? He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their season.” The vineyard is violently taken from the scribes and the Pharisees when the Temple is destroyed in 70 AD, an event that Christ prophesies on several occasions. And the vineyard is expanded—its no longer the Jewish people, but now includes all mankind. And the new husbandmen are the Apostles, the bishops and the presbyters, called to lead the people to fruition. In the verse immediately after this parable, Christ says, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof…and the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that He spake of them.” All of the graces given to Israel to bring the message of God to the world are now transferred to the Christian Church, the Bride of Christ. And now She is tasked with the spreading of the Gospel to all the world, to the tilling of vineyard to bring forth good fruit to return to the Master.
    We as the Christian Church should receive this parable with fear and trembling. If the nation of Israel had been given great riches, what have we as Orthodox Christians been given? We no longer wait for the Messiah, He has come. In fact, we’re preparing even now to receive His body and blood. Man’s salvation is no longer prophesied, but was fulfilled in Christ. We are no longer slaves of the law, but free in the love of Christ. And we, who are in possession of the fullness of this Mystery, are we caring for it any better than God’s first chosen people? The vineyard of the Church is planted. It is hedged from the world by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our altar is the heavenly altar, and our worship takes place in the heavens. We have been given all we need for the bountiful harvest. But what will our Lord find when He returns? Will we be working diligently in the vineyard—both tilling the soil of our own hearts, as well as calling those outside the vineyard to enter into the joy of the Lord? Or will we just be living, taking advantage of what the Lord has given us, but not doing our part in return? Christ makes it abundantly clear both in this morning’s parable and in other places, if we don’t use the gifts we’ve been given—both as a Church body, and as individual Christians—then the gifts will be taken away. And we’ll be called to give an account for our failures. In response to the love and mercy of our Saviour, let us strive to bring forth fruits worthy of the kingdom of Heaven. Fruits of love, of mercy and compassion. Fruits of a sinless life, of prayer and Christ-likeness. Fruits that we can give to our Master in return for all that He has given us.
    Glory to Jesus Christ!