The Monastery of the Temptation, above Jericho

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Vineyard Yielding Wild Grapes

This morning's reading from the Prophecy of Isaiah has a direct connection to a parable Jesus himself told.  Here are the two:

Isaiah 5:
 Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He digged 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; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry!
And from Matthew 21

“Hear another 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. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.”
The theme from the early chapters of Isaiah continues to be the impending Judgement on the Dread Day of the Lord.  The foreshadowing of this judgment in Isaiah is parable-ized in the Gospel of Matthew, and the truth is revealed.  The next verse in the Matthew passage quoted above is this:  "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them."  Essentially, they have judged themselves as the wild ones, having produced no fruit, and will fulfill the parable by their call for the Son of the Vineyard Owner to be crucified.

The outstretched arms of Christ on the cross are an invitation.  By the Crucifixion, the walls of the Vineyard, the locus of God's Chosen People (the Israelites), have been destroyed, and the Vineyard, fulfilled in the Church, is open to all who will call on the Name of the Lord, all who will follow His will and walk in His ways.

At the Lord's own word, it is no longer--if it ever was--a matter of family heritage:  "I was born into this, and therefore am saved."  John the Baptist, calling for good fruit himself in anticipation of Christ, cried out,
"Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
During this season, we must remind ourselves again and again:  I am not saved simply because I am baptized or simply because I am an Orthodox Christian.  God can make Orthodox Christians out of the mulch and mushrooms in the garden, if he likes.  Rather, we must humble ourselves and call on the Name of the Lord--doing everything by His Grace and Guidance, to produce fruit:

To Love God with heart and soul and strength and mind:  praying, studying, worshipping, giving.
To Love our Neighbor as ourself:  caring, sharing, encouraging, carrying burdens.  Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned.
To Love our Enemies:  returning good for evil, turning the other cheek, and walking the extra mile.

This, indeed would be fruit worthy of the Master's table.

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