19 Pentecost, Year A: The Vineyard

“Tenant Farmers” by Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr

19 Pentecost, October 8

Ex. 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 or Isa. 5:1-7
Ps. 19 or Ps. 80:7-14
Phil. 3:4b-14Matt. 21:33-46

Israel is a vine brought out of Egypt; it grows and prospers. Sadly, at times it wanders into unfaithfulness and is subject to divine judgment. In the words of the Psalter, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. … Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?” (Ps. 80:8-9, 12). Why? For judgment and repentance.

Christ is also a vine. “I am the vine, you are the branches. My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:5, 8). Ideally, the children of Israel bear fruit, and likewise the Church. Yet we all have fallen short of the glory of God.

In what way? Sometimes we bear the wrong fruit: wild grapes, signifying bloodshed and anguish. “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes” (Isa. 5:1-2). “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry” (Isa. 5:7). This judgment applies not only to the house of Israel and the people of Judah, but to the Church as well.

Sometimes we bear the fruit of our own righteousness and so refuse to acknowledge the “merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior,” by whom we receive being and life, through whom we labor in the vineyard, and to whom we owe the fruit of our labor (the Collect). Refusing to acknowledge our debt to God and his only begotten Son, we claim everything as our own, defending what we have even with violence, and thus bringing about our own destruction.

Jesus tells a parable. “There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another” (Matt. 21:33-35, RSV). Other slaves were sent and treated the same way. “Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son’” (Matt. 21:37). They don’t. The vineyard’s owner “will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give the produce at harvest time” (Matt. 21:40-41). The chief priest and the elders of the people listen, as do we. God is the owner of the vineyard, and is not mocked. We may lose what we have!

Sometimes we don’t bear fruit when the Lord requires it. In the parable, the slaves were sent “when the time of the fruits came near” (from the Greek). That is, they arrived a bit too early. In another sense, they can’t arrive too early because God may require fruit at any time. Jesus cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit when, according to St. Mark, “it was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13). This hardly seems right, but again, God expects from us a fruitful life at all times. The kingdom of God is at hand. Bear fruit that befits repentance.

Look It Up: Psalm 1:3

Think About It: In all you do, prosper.


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