We are bought with a great price

Matthew 21:33-42

AUDIO HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Sometimes, things work out in a way that seems a little ironic, funny, to me. This past week I had a very good discussion with a dear Orthodox friend of mine, and because of the topic of that discussion, the parable that we just heard from St. Matthew’s Gospel was one of the passages that we looked at. Near the end of this particular conversation, my friend commented that the teaching of the Orthodox Church on our topic was something he’d never heard before, and there was a desire that what we believe should be taught. Of course, there are so many potential questions and discussions that none of us could even exhaust the wealth of the Church. But I took this conversation happening this week coupled with today’s reading as a sign of sorts, an opportunity to discuss in some detail the purpose of this parable.

If you were to turn my conversation this week into a question it would be the same question that our Lord’s parable answers – what is the relationship of God with the people of Israel [by Israel, I mean throughout this homily ‘the people of the Old Covenant’]? What is the status of the promises made to those people? What is the place of the Old Covenant people in the plan of God for our salvation after the coming of the Messiah? This is an important enough question that our Lord offers an answer in several places, and it is addressed in multiple places in the New Testament Epistles as well. This is also a question that continues to cause confusion today – the relationship of the Church and Israel and God. You can easily see the confusion by looking at all of the various approaches taken in other Christian groups around us in society today.

Why is this question so important? As St Paul says in Galatians (ch 3), the promises of God will never pass away. God made promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, to bless their children and to make a great nation of their people. The Messiah was promised, God’s blessing and protection was promised. These promises of God are eternal, St. Paul says. So they either lie with the people of the Old Covenant, the heirs according to the flesh of Abraham, or perhaps they lie with the Church, or perhaps somehow the lie with both. Answering this question might not seem all that important to us at first glance, but the Scripture writers thought it important, and I think we will too after thinking on it a few more minutes. It is definitive for how we are to live in our relationship with God.

Now, finally, to our Lord’s parable. The parable is told to the chief priests and leaders of the Temple – and they understand exactly what our Lord is saying, because they try to “lay hands” on Him after He tells this parable. The landowner is God the Father. The vineyard is the world, the Promised Land, all of the promises of God to His people. The vineyard is given to the vinedressers, to the people of Israel. But when God comes to reap the spiritual fruits of the people, they have none. They ignore his messengers – the prophets and the priests, the judges and the kings – and they even abuse them and kill them. Finally the Son of the Father comes [Jesus Christ], and the vinedressers kill Him, and try to lay claim on the vineyard of their own. This is parallel to Adam and Eve in the garden, wanting the blessings by their own power. So the Father punishes the evil vinedressers, and He takes away the vineyard, and gives it to another. The Fathers, in keeping with the flow of the parable, certainly understand this to mean that the promises given to the people of the Old Covenant are taken away, and given now to the Church. And our Lord ends by quoting the Psalms, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes” The Gentiles, rejected by the Jews and the Old Covenant, actually become the cornerstone of the New Covenant and the Church of Christ.

As we see in our Lord’s parable, the question really comes down to – who are the chosen people of God? Or to put it another way – who truly are the followers of the way of God? God’s chosen people, those who follow Him and are His children, these are the heirs of the promises of God. And remember, the promises are not about exclusivity – God wants to pour out His grace on all mankind – but to receive that great grace, we must be followers of Him. St. Paul continues along the same teaching as Christ (obviously) in Galatians 3, where he even more clearly spells out the answer to this question that Christ addresses in the parable this morning. It’s a very dense chapter dealing with the law, grace, the promises, Israel, the Old Covenant, the New Covenant, Christ, and the Church – but we can pull out these two beautiful verses that spell things out very clearly. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He [God] saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ [Christ is the seed of Abraham!]…and if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (16&29). Very clearly here St. Paul again tells us that the Christian Church is now the chosen Body of Christ, the heirs of the Kingdom of God.

Answering this question of “who are the people of God?” is important because we need to know what it is that God would have us doing. If the Old Covenant remains intact and those are the chosen people, then the Church as something separate is not doing what she should be doing. But we see clearly here from our Lord’s words, and from the words of St. Paul, that the Church of Christ is the New Israel, heirs to the promises, and the place where man comes to be saved. The people of the Old Covenant had as their major task the preparation of the world for the Messiah – He has come, and now is the time to follow Him.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

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