02- God's Vineyard, September 11, 2011

Galatians 6:11-18 (Sunday Before)

I Corinthians 16:13-24

John 3:13-17 (Sunday Before)

Matthew 21:33-42

The Savior told this morning’s parable centuries earlier to His prophet, Isaiah. So we need only turn to Isaiah to learn what the Lord means with this parable. He told Isaiah that the vineyard is the house of Israel.[1] And He complained to Isaiah that He had planted His vineyard looking to harvest grapes, but instead it yielded wild grapes. Wild grapes grow in their own way. To call the house of Israel a house of wild grapes means that Israel had become a disobedient people. To be sure, they honored God with their mouths, so the Lord said to Isaiah; but their hearts were far from Him. [2] In other words, in their everyday life, they followed after the idols worshipped by their neighbors. This should give us pause. Who do we follow in our everyday life? Do we seek to know and to do the will of God, or do we live in the ways of the world around us?

As the house of Israel, the vineyard is the Church that before was barren through Israel’s disobedience, but in the obedience of the Theotokos has been made fertile [Festal Menaion, Nativity of the Theotokos, p. 113]; for the Theotokos brings forth as the fruit of her womb the Son of God in the flesh. He is the New Adam. And, the grapes the Lord was hoping to harvest from His vineyard He harvests in the mystery of His Holy Cross, which carried Christ “like a cluster of grapes full of life.”[3] In His Holy Resurrection, Christ becomes the first-born of the dead. I want to say He becomes the first grape harvested from the vineyard; and, in His death and Resurrection, He becomes the Vine who brings forth countless grapes, the countless souls raised from death to life by faith in obedience to the will of the Father. The vineyard, then, is the mystery of the Theotokos and of her Son and God, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the mystery of the Church. It is the mystery of Christ’s death and Holy Resurrection.

Now, just before the Lord told this parable, He had told another parable. It, too, is about the vineyard. “A man had two children. He came to the first and said, My child, Go today and work in my vineyard. The child answered, I will, Lord, but he did not go. The father came to the second child and said the same thing. That child answered him and said, No, I don’t want to. But then he changed his mind and he went.” Of these two children, only the child who did not give lip-service but got up to work in the vineyard was obedient to the will of the Father. And, what is the will of the Father? It is clear from this parable that the will of the Father is to go work in the vineyard; to work, in other words, in the Church, in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.

What is this work to which the Lord is calling us in His vineyard? From Isaiah the prophet, we see that this work to which we are called in the Lord's vineyard is both outer and inner. The outer work has to do with our mouths: our words and our deeds. The inner work has to do with our heart.

One way that St Paul the apostle describes this work is in Romans: it is to become transfigured (morphao – same word is in Mt 17:2) by the renewing of our heart (nous).[4] St Peter the apostle describes it as working to conform ourselves no more to the passions of the world – to lust, anger, greed, vanity and pride that enslave us in the corruption of death – but to become holy as God who calls us is holy.[5] In this work of the Lord’s vineyard, we are working to become communicants of the divine nature[6] at the wedding feast of God’s Son, which we hear about in the parable immediately following this morning’s parable of the vineyard. The Son whose wedding the feast celebrates is the very Son whom the vinedressers killed in this morning’s parable. The wedding feast, then, is the Holy Eucharist of Christ’s Holy Pascha.

This work begins when we receive Christ in the confession of Faith, which goes hand in hand with the confession of our sins, and in Holy Baptism and Chrismation, and in Holy Eucharist. When we receive Christ, we who were dead in our sins and trespasses are made alive[7] because we become members of His body, which is risen from the dead in the glory of His Holy Resurrection and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father. Having been raised to life by receiving Christ, now we receive His command that He gives to all those He heals and saves: “Rise, take up your bed, your cross, and walk, go to your home. Go today and work in my vineyard. Work today in the mystery of my death and resurrection, to which you have united yourself in your holy baptism.

Our heart is the tomb of Christ’s Pascha. As we receive Christ, the hard stone that covers the gate of our heart and makes us “hard-hearted” is rolled away by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit and the gates of heaven open before us. We receive power from on high to do as Christ commands us: to take up our cross and walk, to go today to work in His vineyard and to follow Him in His Ascension to Heaven, our home.

The work of the vineyard, then, is taking up our cross to put our old man to death for the sake of Christ so that we may be united to Him in His Holy Resurrection. This work is primarily the inner work; i.e., it is centered on our heart because it is the love of our heart in the inner man that determines the health of the outer man. But, it is also outer work, because it is through the outer work that we get to our heart.

The outer work is rising up like obedient children to go today to work in the vineyard. Very practically, this is simply the work of folding our lives into the liturgical rhythm and morés of the Church’s spiritual life. That means attending the services of the Church so that the liturgical rhythm of the Church becomes the heartbeat, as it were, of our life. It means clothing ourselves in the ways of the Church’s spiritual life. St Peter the apostle describes this part of the work in the Lord’s vineyard as fleeing from every kind of evil, every kind of deceit and hypocrisy, all manner of evil speech, i.e., speech that is nasty, crude, vulgar, slanderous (katalias).[8] We do this part of the work by guarding the images and sounds that our eyes and ears receive so that our inner man is not drawn away from the Way of the Lord by the enticements of the passions. It means dealing with our family and those at our places of work and school in honesty, sincerity, courtesy, respect.

The outer work helps us to do the inner work, which produces in us a gradual inner, even hidden transfiguration as we grow,[9] like grapes on the vine, into the likeness of Christ to become holy as He who calls us is holy.[10] The inner work is the work of mindfulness, an inner vigilance working to foster and establish unceasing prayer in the depths of our soul. Unceasing prayer is centered on what we call the prayer of the heart: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This work is aided by remembering to keep the days and seasons of fasting. We observe the fasts of the Church freely, not out of obligation but out of a desire to learn the love of God. In this manner, our weekly routine, as we go about fulfilling our worldly obligations, becomes centered on preparing ourselves both without and within for the Divine Liturgy when we receive Christ in Holy Eucharist and become communicants of the divine nature. Our whole life, then, becomes the work of commending of ourselves and each other to Christ our God in the commemoration of the Theotokos with all the saints.

In the liturgical rhythm of the Church, we have passed over from the old into the New Year, from the mystery of the Theotokos’ Dormition to the joy of her Nativity in the Light of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. In the joy of this light, we hear the Lord calling us in this morning’s Gospel to go today to work in His vineyard, to take up our cross and to follow Him in the mystery of His Holy Pascha to the wedding feast of His Resurrection in the vineyard of His Church. The Church New Year should be a time to renew our baptismal vow to unite ourselves to Christ, to be conformed to the world no more but to be renewed in Christ. We have received Christ in the holy sacraments of the Church and we have become children of God. As obedient children, let us be resolved to take up our cross and do as He commands us: “Go today and work in my vineyard.” Let us work to draw near to Christ not just with our mouths but also in our hearts. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!

[1] Isa 5:7

[2] Isa 28:19

[3] Festal Menaion, Feast of the Cross, p. 153.

[4] Rm 12:2

[5] I Pt 1:14-15

[6] II Pt 1:4

[7] Eph 2:1

[8] I Pt 2:1.

[9] Cf. I Pt 2:2

[10] I Pt 1:16-17