01 - Stone Rejected, Sept 3, 2017


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I Corinthians 16:13-24

Matthew 21:33-42

In fact, the LORD gave this parable to His people centuries before through His prophet, Isaiah (5:1ff.). Let’s consider its symbolism and harvest its theological meaning.

The vineyard is Israel. Its landowner is God the Father. The hedge, I believe, is the Law meant to keep Israel “holy”; i.e., to set her apart so that she is not swallowed up into the world religions of the serpent. The tower is the Temple. The vinedressers are the leaders of Israel. The servants of the landowner are the prophets. What should we make of the winepress that crushes grapes, and of the grapes it crushes and the wine produced from the grapes?

The parable makes clear that the vineyard and the wine produced from its grapes are the inheritance of the landowner’s Son the vinedressers wanted for themselves. Obviously, then, without the winepress there would be no inheritance. This, I think, reveals what the winepress is.

The wine symbolically is the “life” or “blood” of the earth, the “genius” or “soul” of Israel. The winepress, then, is, if you will, what brings forth the “life” or “soul” that Israel offered to God in the different rites of blood sacrifice, which were accomplished on the altar in the Temple. The winepress, then, is the altar; so, it would be inside the tower in the middle of the vineyard.

Herein lies the profound irony of the parable. The LORD – i.e., the LORD before He became flesh – says to the prophet, Ezekiel, “I am Israel’s inheritance” (Eze 44:28). I.e., He is the Life of Israel. Rejecting Him in the belief they can seize the inheritance for themselves, when the vinedressers take Him outside the vineyard and murder Him, they unwittingly place their inheritance, i.e., their “life”, out of reach in the earth. They will not “find their life” until they “lose it” (Mt 16:25), until they also go outside the vineyard and “crucify” themselves (Rom 8:13) that they might find their Life in the midst of the earth (Ps 73:12, LXX).

Marvelous in the eyes of those who believe is that in crucifying the Landowner’s Son, the LORD of Glory, the vinedressers, while intending to accomplish His destruction, laid the Cornerstone for the New Temple (Jn 2:19-21). There is now a new winepress or altar; the Cross. There is a New Temple, the Body of God that was buried in the earth. This New Temple is found now outside the vineyard or outside the city, outside the world created by man, outside all human institutions, every religion and philosophy and science.

Yet, it is found at the same time inside every man because it is in the earth from which every man is made. Not simply the earth; it is in the mystery of death, and so it is found in every man because death is common to every man. More than that: this New Temple can be entered now by every man because every man passes through its Royal Doors: death – not to mention the persecution and the injustice by which those doors were made to open. I.e., “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake, for great is your reward in heaven” (Mt 5:11), for Christ has worked His salvation in the midst of the earth. He has destroyed death by His death.

The Scripture the LORD quotes to give the meaning of this parable is Psalm 117 (LXX). There we read: “The LORD is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation” (v. 14). Now, we understand: the LORD has become my salvation by His unjust suffering and His undeserved death. As the Psalmist says in another place: “God is our King of old. He has worked salvation in the midst of the earth” (Ps 73:12 LXX). He is my strength and song by His suffering and death because they are the “fruit” of His obedience. By His suffering, injustice and suffering are transfigured into Glory; by His death, death is utterly destroyed because death, the “fruit” of disobedience, “swallows” Him Who was obedient even to the point of death on the Cross (Phil 2:8), and its inward parts burst open (Ps 106:14-16 LXX). In the midst of the earth – i.e., outside the city, beyond the world created by man, and so within me where I am outside the city, where I am beyond the world created by man; and so a fortiori, in the world created by God, in my heart, in my true self where I am deep beyond all things, where I open onto God – there He has crushed the grapes of my disobedience to produce in the winepress of His Cross the wine of His own obedience; so that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood no more has death but life in himself (Jn 6:53)!

There hides in our dying and in our death this Mighty Act of God, His death and Resurrection by which the true King of Israel, not David or Solomon but God Himself, has built His New Temple on the foundation of His own Body, the Stone the builders rejected, laid in the nethermost regions of hell “below” dark and deep and now reaches all the way to the unapproachable light of Heaven “above” (Mat 27:51).

The thick curtain –the wall of enmity St Paul speaks of? – that closes me off from the sanctuary, the “Holy of Holies” of my heart and separates me from God has been torn in two. I unite myself to Christ in the likeness of His death and my own death becomes my entry into the LORD’s Holy Temple. With arms outstretched on the winepress of His Cross, He fills the earth with His steadfast mercy that endures forever. Time has become the narthex of eternity, the world the entryway into the New Temple of the LORD’s crucified and risen and glorified Body.

In the Church, we are not simply shown but even guided by the hand that we may find in our own heart the narrow gate of the New Temple. They are the Royal Doors of self-denial, of taking up our cross and learning how to die this life-giving death of Christ so that by losing our life we may find it in Christ.

We die in this life-giving death of Christ by practicing obedience to His commandments, crucifying what is earthly in us (Col 3:5) carrying in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus is made manifest in the death of our flesh (2 Cor 4:11).

This is the vision of human nature and destiny that shapes and guides the thoughts, the words and behavior of the believer who lives by faith and not by the media or the wisdom of the world. When we believe and begin to “attend” to the Way of the Church, our inner eye is illumined and we begin to see the many opportunities that are given to us in the troubles and afflictions, the annoyances and irritations of our daily life to practice self-denial so that we can follow the LORD Christ outside the city and into the wilderness of our soul and to the Jordan in the “tomb of our heart” not in the imagination of “belief” but in the concrete reality of our daily life.

In the beginning, we took up our cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, as Christ commands, with zeal. But, sooner or later, the Spirit leads us down from the mountain of our baptism or Chrismation and into the wilderness of our soul. There, we run headlong into our old habits. We didn’t see them so well before when we lived in the city. But now, we both see them and we see how much we love them and give in to them not only unconsciously but also consciously, unknowingly and knowingly, involuntarily and voluntarily. These are the embodiment of the law of sin that still dwells in us bodily. The corpse of the old man, if you will, shows itself in the laziness that weighs me down. I feel the heaviness of my self-will; I don’t want to take up my cross to follow Christ into the deep of my heart and lose my life for His sake. Or, let’s say: I don’t want to go to the trouble of crushing the wild grapes growing in the vineyard of my worldly life that I may offer to Christ the wine of my love. I prefer Cabernets and Merlots to the sweet “Wine” of the Church. It would be nice if I only had to “believe” in Christ; but that would be only to exchange an old for a new set of religious ideas, leaving me still in the “vineyard” of the city, drinking Cabernets and Merlots, not the Fountain of immortality springing up from the midst of the earth outside the city, in the New Temple of the Body of God.

Dear faithful, outside the city we now draw near the Feast of the Cross by way of the Theotokos’ Nativity. In the joy of the feasts, let us renew our first love and resolve to deny ourselves for Christ’s sake, and take up our cross to follow the LORD to Bethlehem and to His Holy Pascha where He works salvation in the midst of the earth, in us! Amen!