Sunday, October 5, 2008

It’s Good to Be In the Vineyard

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Matthew 21:33-46

The parable of the Tenants of the Vineyard presents us with the grand scheme, the very Plan of Salvation God has laid out in the Bible. As God has given Himself in taking on flesh so in everything Jesus does He is giving us Himself. God created human beings and yet we often attempt to step outside of God’s providential care and make a name for ourselves.

A famous example of this is the tower of Babel. Man reaching up to heaven with all of his power only to be foiled by God in causing them to speak in different languages, causing them great confusion. It also happens in subtle ways. The world began in a garden. The Garden of Eden was perfect. Adam and Eve lived in paradise and Adam’s taking care of it was not a burden. But upon the Fall man’s work in caring for himself and his family would be toil.

Not long after God had brought Noah and his family to dry land after the Flood Noah began to be a man of the soil. He planted a vineyard. With a new lease on life, could there have been some thought that in planting a vineyard he could establish a new paradise? Even if it were possible, he ruined it soon enough in taking a good gift of God in wine and indulging in it. Just as Adam and Eve had done, taking the good gifts of God but wanting more.

When it comes to God, the problem is never with the Gift. Nor is it ever with the Giver. When Joshua and Caleb and the other spies sent by Moses came back from checking out the land of Canaan they brought with them a cluster of grapes they had cut down. God had promised them the land of Canaan, but as the Promised Land it would by no means be a restoration of Paradise. Sadly, that’s what they were looking for, just like Noah had done.

But that didn’t mean God wouldn’t restore Paradise. Our Old Testament reading shows us how God describes His beloved people, as a vineyard. When God does something He does it right. He created the Garden of Eden in perfection. Upon the Fall into sin He immediately set in place a Plan—the Plan of Salvation for all people. He planted His people, His vineyard, with great care. He did everything He could to nurture it and care for it.

But what happened? He says in Jeremiah, “Many shepherds have destroyed My vineyard.” What did God do? Just as the owner of the vineyard in Jesus’ parable sent servant after servant, God had sent to His people prophet after prophet. As the tenants in the parable mistreated the servants and even murdered some, so the people of God did to the prophets. God anguishes—What more could I do for My Vineyard that I have not done?

What He could do and did do is send His Son. As the owner of the vineyard sent his son as his last effort, so God our Father has sent His only-begotten Son as the fulfillment of His Plan of Salvation. We know what happened. We know that He, too, was brutally murdered. And we know why. Jesus is speaking this parable specifically to those religious leaders, the shepherds Jeremiah had been talking about, who were to be nurturing the Vineyard—the people of God, not destroying it and persecuting the prophets.

This, now, was the last chance. They would get rid of Jesus, they would be done with Him once and for all. But what will He do to them? The chief priests and Pharisees answered the question, indicting themselves: “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.” The Vineyard has been let out, my friends. You and I are the recipients of God’s care and nurture of His Vineyard. Because of the promise given to our father in the faith, Abraham, all nations of the earth are blessed. God sent His very own Son as the Redeemer for the world.

Will we go the way of the people of God over all the centuries? Constantly kicking against the goads. Always seeking greener pastures. Thinking that somehow we can restore Paradise in our lives apart from the Word of God and His Sacraments and the Holy Christian Church. After all, what do vineyards do? They produce fruit. Vineyards well tended overflow with wine. If you and I simply take for granted that the promise has been extended to us and we’re good to go, then not much fruit will bear.

But we must not also trap ourselves into thinking that bearing the fruit God desires of us and delights in is something we can produce on our own. If anyone could have—apart from Christ, that is—it would have been the Apostle Paul. He makes his case in the Epistle reading:

"If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the Law blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith."

We could make our own list. We’re proud of our achievements. We produce good results at work, we help out in our communities, we raise good children, we get them involved in all kinds of activities that make them better people. But before we know it, it’s all about us, and all the activities we’re involved in. God gets crowded out. Being in the House of God, being dedicated to Bible Study and the daily exercise of prayer and devotions, meditating on the good Gifts God has given us Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper go by the wayside. Here we are, attempting to build our own little paradise on earth and the righteousness of Christ becomes an afterthought.

But God has placed us in His Vineyard. We count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. The grand and eternal plan of God, His Plan of Salvation, is met in this One, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden after they fell into sin Adam was given to working the ground in toil. But restoring Paradise would not come through this toil. It would come through the suffering of the only-begotten Son. It would come through His own flesh and blood. His body given, His blood poured out for the sin of the world. There is no toil we do that will restore Paradise for ourselves, get us in favor with God, gain us entry into heaven. But His sacrifice will.

And He will nurture His Vineyard. He will sustain you in the faith. He will continue to offer You His Son, often, as He does today in His Son’s Holy Feast. He will once again give His Body to you and pour out His Blood for you to eat and to drink and be refreshed in your soul. He will strengthen and keep you both in body and soul, both now and to life eternal. It’s good to be in the Vineyard. Amen.


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