01 - The Lord's Vineyard, Sept 6, 2009

I Corinthians 16:13-24

Matthew 21:33-42

The Son of the King in this morning’s parable is the Lord Jesus Christ. The King is God the Father. The Holy Spirit would be the Giver of Life through whom the vineyard brings forth its fruits. Those fruits would therefore be the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy and peace.[1] St Matthew tells us that when the scribes and Pharisees, leaders of the people, heard this parable they wanted to lay their hands on Jesus because they knew He was talking about them when in His parable He has the vinedressers saying, when they see the son of the king coming to the vineyard to claim its fruits: “This is the heir. Come, let us kill Him and we will have His inheritance!” But before we fault the scribes and Pharisees for their enmity towards Jesus, let’s look more closely at this parable.

In Deuteronomy, we read that the Lord’s inheritance is Israel.[2] The vineyard, then, is Israel, the Lord’s inheritance. On a deeper level of meaning, the vineyard is the Church, the New Israel. And we become a branch of the vineyard through our baptism, when we are grafted onto the True Vine that is Christ[3] and become members of the New Israel, branches of the vine of the Lord’s inheritance. That is to say, our body, our soul and our mind become the Lord’s vineyard, the Lord’s inheritance. In the Church, in the Body of Christ, our body, soul and mind are fed the precious body and blood of Christ Himself, we receive in Holy Eucharist the Holy Spirit. The seed of the fruits of the Spirit, Jesus Christ, are sown in our body, mind and soul through our partaking of Holy Eucharist. In our receiving of Holy Eucharist, the Life of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us as Living Waters that water the seed of Christ that has been sown in us to produce in us the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy and peace.

So, what do we do with this heavenly gift that has been given to us through the mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church? That is to say, what do we do with our body, our mind and our soul, the Lord’s vineyard, and the Seed of God that has been sown in us through the mysteries of the Church? You see, we are the vinedressers who have been given charge of the Lord’s vineyard: our bodies, our souls and our minds and the Heavenly Seed that has been sown in us through the mysteries of the Church. Now it may be easier to understand the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. What’s our initial reaction towards the Savior when we hear the demands He makes on us, such as: Go, sell all that you have; or, if anyone would be My disciple, let him deny himself and lose his life for My sake; or, he who loves family more than Me is not worthy of Me?

The Lord complained through Isaiah the prophet: “This people draws near to me with their lips but in their hearts, they are far from me.”[4] Adam and Eve spurned the Lord’s command to eat from the Tree of Life and chose instead to eat from the serpent’s tree. Israel, too, ate from the serpent’s tree when she chose to go after other gods. Through our baptism, we have been led into the Garden of Eden; and through Holy Eucharist we have been given to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life, which is Christ. But from what tree are we eating in our secret heart, our inner man? That is to say, what are we living for? What spirit or mind is feeding our response to each circumstance that confronts us in our daily life, or governs the choices we make throughout the day? With our lips we say that we love the Lord. We take ourselves to Church and participate in her holy mysteries. But in our hearts, to what are we giving the love, the fruits of our soul, mind and body, the Lord’s vineyard? And if ever we are confronted with the fact of our selfishness, what is our reaction if it isn’t close to that of the scribes and Pharisees?

 Let’s acknowledge that we are the scribes and Pharisees; and that in faulting them, we fault ourselves. But I believe that we are here this morning because there is a part of us that really does want to eat from the Tree of Life and live in its branches. We really do want to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit and offer them to the Lord, if only we knew how. St Paul tells the Corinthians this morning to watch. The tower in the vineyard of this morning’s parable and St Paul’s exhortation take me to Habakkuk and to the tower to which he takes himself in order to watch to see what the Lord will say to him.[5] So let’s take ourselves to the tower of our mind and attend very closely to the instruction implicit in this morning’s parable to watch for the Lord, to see what He might be saying to us, so that we can learn how to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in the vineyard of our soul, mind and body and offer them to the Savior when He comes to claim them from us.

The Lord says that a hedge was made to encircle the vineyard. This hedge is the Law of God (or Wisdom). But the Law of God (Wisdom), so we are told in Proverbs, is a “tree of life to those who lay hold of her.”[6] The Tree of Life, moreover, so we are given to understand from what the Church will be singing on the Feast of the Elevation in a couple of weeks, is the Cross “that carries the Most High like a cluster of grapes, full of life.”[7] If the hedge that surrounds the vineyard is the Law of God or the Tree of Life that grew in the Garden or the Cross that carries the Most High like a cluster of grapes full of life, then the vineyard must be the branches growing in the Tree of Life. That is to say, the vineyard is our body, mind and soul that have been grafted onto the true vine which is Christ through Holy Baptism, and which have been united to the crucified and risen body of Christ, the Most High whom the Cross, the Tree of Life, carries like a cluster of grapes full of life.

The image of the vineyard reminds us that the Church is not fund-raisers, she is not the expression of a particular culture or ethnic genius, she is not a Club or a Society made up of smaller clubs and societies. She is the Body of Christ; and her business is to bring forth in us the fruits of the Spirit that we are to offer back to God. The Life of the Church, that is to say, is an altogether different life coming not from our moms and dads but from Our Father who is in Heaven. We who in this life were dead in our trespasses have received this divine Life into our body, soul and mind through the sacred mysteries of the Church. Those sacred mysteries, I think one can say, are all so many aspects of the Cross. This means that the Life of the Church is laid hold of only as we lay hold of Christ’s Cross.

Because, if our body, mind and soul are the vineyard and we are the vinedressers, that makes us, according to this morning’s parable, the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees represent the old man in us that is at enmity with God, that wants to be his own master and do with his body, soul and mind whatever he pleases and not as God wills. This old man in us must be put to death because the fruits of the Spirit, as the love of God, by their very nature give themselves to the other in love so that each branch of the vineyard, as it is united to the True Vine which is Christ, is transfigured to become in Christ Offerer and Offered, Receiver and Received: i.e. lover and beloved in the divine communion of love that is the very life of the Holy Trinity and which we have been granted to become partakers of in the mysteries of the Church. The scribe and Pharisee in us must be put to death so that the love of God can grow in us, so that we can be taken up out of ourselves, out of our enmity with God and into the love of God, each of us ascending in glory to become lover and beloved in the communion of the Holy Trinity.

We lay hold of the Cross of the Lord’s vineyard by taking ourselves to the tower of our mind, where we watch for that old man in us. When we see him rising up in us, we work to nail him to the Cross of Christ by choosing in that moment to obey Christ’s commands and not to follow after the impulse of whatever passion is trying to draw us away from Christ. We strengthen our inner man for this work of the Cross through the ascetic disciplines of the Church. We fast, not just from food but also from the impure thoughts that our mind loves to eat; the impure images our eyes love to eat, the impure words our mouths love to eat. Then, we fill the space created in our inner man by the fast with prayer; and by being attentive or watchful, we grow that prayer into unceasing prayer that takes root in our heart. In this way, we are drawing near to God not just with our lips but also in our secret heart. This ascetic work of the Church is centered on the confession of our sins. This is how we spit out the fruit of the serpent that we have eaten and pull out the weeds that have grown in the ground of our vineyard from the serpent’s seeds. In their place, we plant the Heavenly Seed of God’s Word by keeping the commandments of Christ, by reading Holy Scripture, the holy fathers, lives of the saints, and by participating in the liturgical worship of the Church, particularly the sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist. We need only to do these ascetic disciplines of the Church and we will be abiding in Christ’s love; and as we abide in His love, as we do the disciplines of the Church and live her Life, the Seed of Christ’s Holy Spirit, planted in the vineyard of our soul, mind and body through the mysteries of the Church, will grow in us into the fruits of the Spirit, and when we offer them to God, He does not take them from us and leave us with nothing. We become rather partakers of the divine nature, communicants of Life eternal, eating and drinking with the Lord in the communion of His saints at the table of His Messianic Banquet in the Heavenly joy of the harvest of His Holy Pascha.[8] Amen.

[1] Gal 5:22-23

[2] Dt 32:9

[3] Jn 15:1

[4] Isa 29:13

[5] Hab 2:1

[6] Prov 3:19

[7] Festal Menaion 153

[8] Jn 15:8-12