13th Sunday After Pentecost
In today’s Gospel reading we heard the parable of the owner of a vineyard. The owner has equipped this vineyard with all that is necessary to produce fruit and to protect its healthy production. He rents out the vineyard to some cultivators to whom he entrusts its care and stewardship. Again and again he sends messengers to collect the rent and over and over again these messengers are ignored, ridiculed, even stoned and beaten. Finally, he sends his own son – expecting that they will respect him. Seeing the son of the owner, the wicked cultivators conspire to kill him in order to receive his inheritance.
The initial interpretation of this parable is obvious… Jesus is speaking directly and referring to the nation of Israel – that vineyard of the Lord which had been so well equipped by the promises and laws of God with all that is necessary to bring forth spiritual fruit. The many messengers sent to the vineyard are none other than the prophets of the Old Testament – the long succession of holy men and women who called the nation of Israel back to repentance and the ways of God and who were again and again ignored, rejected, despised, and killed. And the son is, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ – the Son of God Who was sent to the vineyard to speak directly, to show by living example, and to intercede for the people of God. This parable was spoken by Jesus on Tuesday of Holy Week just before His crucifixion. It was designed to awaken the Pharisees, the scribes and the priests to the terrible sins they had committed in the past against the prophets and the great sin they were about to commit against God’s own Son. It is a powerful parable and a clear forewarning of what was to come.
How else might this parable be applied? Who else was Christ speaking to?...
Surely it is speaking to the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ. The New Testament Church is the new Israel and woe to us if we make the same mistake as our forefathers – in our Orthodox Faith, we have been even better equipped with all of the sacraments and grace of God, we have everything necessary for our salvation in the Holy Church entrusted to us by our Lord. And yet, let us examine ourselves and ask - how do we behave as stewards of this rich vineyard of our faith? This faith which has given us the Holy Gospels, the Divine Liturgy and all of the Sacraments of the Church, the lives and counsels of all the saints. Do we treasure these gifts? Do we take full advantage of them for the good of our salvation? Or do we ignore, reject, or maybe even resent the imposition that the Church is perceived to make upon our own selfish plans for our life? Are we like the ungrateful stewards of the vineyard of the Holy Church?
And if this question is relevant under the normal conditions of life, when the Church services are open and attendance is unrestricted, then how much more relevant is it to ask ourselves this question today, when our access to the Church has been impeded? Have we valued the treasury of our faith? Are we willing to fight for it?
Whether the current restrictions are justified or not, they are the reality of our present condition. These conditions make it harder to live our Christian life. We do not have the same freedom and easy access to the Church that we had been used to. It is not as easy to get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ for fellowship and support. We are all feeling more isolated and disconnected given the current circumstances of life.
And so, the question then becomes – ‘What will you do about it?’
I think that the perfect answer to this question is given to us today by the Apostle Paul in the Epistle reading we heard this morning. In concluding his letter to the Christians in Corinth, he advises: ‘Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.’
Yes, we have obstacles placed before us which were not there before. Attendance at Church is being restricted for now… but attendance is still possible. We just have to fight for it a bit more. You must take the initiative to get on the list to attend one of the several services offered each week. And if attendance at the Church is not feasible, then you should make arrangements for the priest to come to your home. But by all means ‘stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.’
Our Orthodox life has never been the easy road… there have always been challenges to living a life of piety and Christian struggle in this world. And now, with the concerns for the containment of the Corona virus, and with the growing apostasy of the culture around us, I think we need to acclimate ourselves for even greater challenges in the future.
If we are not attending to our faith… with real vigor and determination to keep the flame of our zeal alive, then we run the risk of seeing that flame of faith extinguished. Every day we need to be fueling that flame with prayer, with the reading of Holy Scripture, with self-sacrifice and service to those around us, and with inspiration from those sources that lift us upward. If we do not feed our faith, our faith will grow weak and will not be able to withstand the challenges and pressures being put upon it.
So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ… ‘Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.’ Let us uphold our Holy Orthodox Faith with fidelity and zeal. Each one of us must be the caretaker of the good of our soul. Be assertive in making sure you retain access to the Holy Sacraments – either coming to the Church or having one of us come to you. Be brave and strong so that no matter what may be taken away externally, your interior life in Christ is unshakable.
And, while we attend to that flame of zeal with strength and determination, let us never lose sight of our true objective. As the Holy Apostle Paul tells us: ‘Let all that you do be done with love.’ All of our efforts of prayer, of fasting, of striving to do good… these are the means by which we soften our hearts and acquire synergy with God. St John the Theologian exhorts us: ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.’
May God grant that we watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. And may all that we do be done with love.