In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the vineyard. In this parable, there is a wealthy man who owns a plot of land and planted a vineyard. Around the vineyard he sets a hedge. He digs a hole for a winepress, and a tower to protect the vineyard, and then he leases it out to tenants, with with the understanding that the tenants would work in the vineyard and pay the landowner once the fruit of their labor is manifest.
Yet what happens in this Gospel story? The landowner sends his servants to collect the fruit of their labor, and instead of payment, the servants are severely abused. One is beaten. One is stoned. And one is even killed. Then the landowner says, “Well, then, I will send my son. Surely they will listen to him!” But in their greed and wickedness, the tenants exclaim with a seemingly evil delight, “This is the heir! This is the one who will inherit the vineyard. Let us kill him and and the vineyard will be ours!” And so they kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.
Reading this parable within the context of Holy Scripture, the meaning of this parable is pretty clear, and all the Holy Fathers attest to this. In this parable, the vineyard is Israel. The owner is God. The hedge is the Law which separated and preserved Israel from the Gentiles. The Law was the schoolmaster, which taught right from wrong. The winepress is the altar. The tower is the Temple. The tenants are the Jews. The servants are those sent by God – the prophets and holy men – who were sent to remind the Jews that Israel was not theirs, but the Lord’s. One they beat, as they did to Micah, one they killed, as they did to Zechariah [the father of John the the Forerunner] between the temple and the altar, and another they stoned, as they did Zechariah, son of Jodae the high priest.
Finally God sent His Son, Christ, to the vineyard which He had planted, and the Jews killed Him as a common criminal, outside the walls of Jerusalem. For they “took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him,” as Christ said in the parable.
“When the owner of the vineyard comes,” Christ asks the chief priests and the elders of the temple, “What will he do to those vinedressers?” And they answer Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” And this is exactly what happens. Even in the lifetime of the apostles, God sends the Roman army to Jerusalem to utterly lay waste to it, so that even one stone is not left on top of another. And as the Jews rejected God’s Son and wanted everything for themselves, they ceased to be God’s people – the chosen land of Israel – and were cast from the land and scattered over the face of the earth. Christ said, the Lord will “lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” And so God reaches out to the Gentiles. The New Israel is born – the Church. This is the “vineyard which Thy right hand hath planted,” as we read in the Psalms and as the bishop proclaims in the Hierarchal Liturgy.
If you want to find the vineyard now, all we have to do it look around, because you are in it. The Church is the New Israel, and the vineyard stretches across the earth – everywhere where the Church is, and where Orthodox Christians live and pray. The winepress is the altar, and the tower is the Church. All the servants in this story are God’s saints.
And we have to ask ourselves, “If this parable continues, if the Church is the New Israel, and if we are in the vineyard right now, in God’s Church… Then how do we fare in this parable? What role do I play?” We have to watch and be careful that we are good stewards of God’s vineyard, and that we don’t wind up like the tenants in this parable. For often, even in doing the work of the Lord, do we not get wrapped up in ourselves? Even in doing supposedly good things, do we not let egoism and greed and other nasty things creep in, so that when the Lord’s servants come to us, we say, “Get out of my way! Get out of my life! I don’t need you! I want to be in control! Your presence is a nuance and a hindrance to what I want to do!” Perhaps we don’t say it so crudely and outwardly with these words, but we say it with our life and with our actions. Sure we are happy to let Christ and his saints in our life – as long as it doesn’t disrupt us too much. As long as we get what we want to get – even just that very little – and not too much is asked of us.
As Fr. Andrew Philips has said:
This parable is also addressed to each of us today in a very personal sense. The vineyard is our own soul. It is hedged around with prayer, with our guardian-angel, our patron-saint. The wine-press is where we offer ourselves to Christ. The tower is our inner church where we pray to God. We are tenants of our God-created souls. The servants sent to us are all those occasions when God speaks to us. He speaks to us in prayer, He speaks to us through the word of His Holy Scriptures, He speaks to us through every opportunity, every meeting, every event that comes into our lives. He speaks to us through the presence of His Church in the world. And how do we react? Do we reject everything sent to us, everything allowed to us, as a chance to do better, to make good our weaknesses? Do we fail to heed God? Do we ignore the Church? If so, then we too beat and stone and kill the servants of God. We are warned: the Heir is coming.
And the most important part of this parable: Christ will come to gather the fruits that we must “render to Him in due season.” We are all called to bear fruit. To be a Christian is not simply to believe certain things, intellectually. To be a Christian is to bear the fruit of a life in Christ. The vineyard is our soul. And from a soul living in the life of the Church and in Christ’s death and resurrection, we must bear the fruit of this life. We are no longer in the grip of the death and decay of this world if we bear His likeness and His image in our souls – if we die in Christ, so that we may live. I have this passage from the words of Christ in the Gospel of John in my office above my desk, above the Cross of Christ on my wall, and which I put there right after my ordination, and it reads: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. (John 15:16) I put that line of scripture there not as an inspirational saying or something to make me feel good, but as a rule – and a test. Am I living up to what God has called me to do? Am I the person God has created me to be? Or am I holding back something for my self? Am I bearing fruit in my life in Christ – out of love for God and my neighbor? I have to seriously ask myself these questions! If we do bear fruit, and if God sees us and sees His likeness and image in us, then we are indeed part of His Kingdom. However, if we reject this, and if we live for ourselves and for our own clutching and clamoring to what is supposedly ours in this world, claiming the things of God for ourselves, and if we do not bear fruit, then the judgment of the vine dressers will be on us.
In the Church, and in the monastery, we have everything we need for our salvation. God has given us everything. Do we use it? Are we bearing fruit as we toil together in Christ’s vineyard?
We must bear fruit, and with love and gratitude, let us pray that God help us to bear fruit in His Kingdom – in the vineyard of the Lord. We must work on the vineyard of our souls, weeding out the bad and building up what is good, the Sacraments and God’s grace being the sunshine and the water and all the things that are needed on the soil of our soul which we must till to nurture the seed of faith which the Lord has planted within each and every one of us. With gratitude towards God for all the good things which He has given us, and with faith and love and true joy in the Holy Spirit, let us strive anew to bring forth fruits worthy of a life in Christ, so that the vineyard of our souls, of the monastery, and of the Church will truly flourish.
Through the prayers of our most Holy Lady Theotokos and of all the saints. Amen.