My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
As we see every day and every week of each year as we journey through the scriptures read during the Liturgy, our Lord uses a great variety of discourse in order to teach in the Gospel. Sometimes He speaks plainly; at other times, in images; and at other times He teaches with questions and parables.
Of course our Lord does so because He is speaking not only to the simple, guile-less, and plain people who gathered to listen to Him, but also He speaks to the scribes and Pharisees, who held various opinions among themselves, and who could not bear the clear and correct discourses of the Saviour. They could not bear plain talk because they themselves invariably communicated in words that were sharp, and severe, and accusatory. It is not so different today. There are those with whom you simply can not have an honest conversation, or who refuse outright to see simple truth.
At times our Lord’s teaching contains consolation, edification, and counsel, and at other times denunciation, prohibition, and strictness. In other words, our Lord speaks in parables in order to move the minds of those who hear Him by giving them examples, to present matters more clearly, and to plant in the souls of His listeners an abiding remembrance of His holy words. By speaking in parables, our Lord makes His teaching clear and open, and spurs even those of us who are only half-listening to turn our ears to Him and to pay attention.
This being the case, let all of us half-listeners now pick up our ears and let us hear the parable of our Lord related to us in today’s holy Gospel:
The Lord spoke this parable: There was a man an householder, who planted a vineyard, and made a hedge round about it, and dug in it a press, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen; and went into a strange country.
Under the form of the man, that is, the householder, we see our Lord. The Lord and Creator of all, Who brought forth all things out of non-being, is called a man because of His love for mankind, and because He is the Founder and the Head of all humanity. He is further called the master of a house, or householder, inasmuch as like a householder has dominion over his house and properties, our Lord has dominion over the universe and all creation. Further our Lord is presented as the cultivator of a vineyard, and here by vineyard is to be understood humanity in general, and the people of Israel in specific, for of old did our Lord cultivate the people of Israel more than any other people.
Thus, the vines of the vineyard are the Jewish nation, which was brought out of Egypt and settled by God in the promised land; as King David says in the psalms, “A vine hast Thou brought out of Egypt, Thou has cast out the heathen and planted it;” and as it is written elsewhere, “Bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance.”
Now, the hedge of the vineyard on the one hand is the Law of Moses, which did not let the Jewish people mingle with pagans and fall into ungodliness. That is the hedge as seen from the interior of the vineyard. But the hedge also represents the protection of God Himself, which prevented the nations from rising up and conquering the Jewish people. Thus is the hedge as seen from the exterior.
The winepress of the vineyard is the altar, the place of sacrifices, that place where the people were by the Law accustomed to perform the ritual slaughter; and under the altar was a vat, in which the blood of the sacrificial victims would be collected.
The tower is the city of Jerusalem and its temple, which was the greatest and finest of temples throughout the inhabited world.
“[A]nd [he] let it out to husbandmen” The first husbandmen are the elders of the people, the chief priests and scribes, to them the vineyard of the Lord of hosts was entrusted, those who were regarded as most wise teachers of the Law, but who – as history tells us – would ultimately prove to be evil and wicked men, betrayers and murderers;
The departure of the master of the house on the one hand represents the time during which the Lord no longer appeared to the Jews in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. But this absence of the master also stands for God’s long-suffering and His mercy, which does not execute swift recompense and punishment for sins. It is as if the Lord has gone away and observes things only from afar, for, in His forbearance and compassion, He does not exact swift vengeance for the misdeeds of men.
And when the time of the fruits drew nigh, he sent his servants to the husbandmen that they might receive the fruits thereof. And the husbandmen laying hands on his servants, beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants more than the former; and they did to them in like manner. And last of all he sent to them his son, saying: They will reverence my son. But the husbandmen seeing the son, said among themselves: This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and we shall have his inheritance. And taking him, they cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him.
Fruit is produced, it is required of a proper vineyard. And in today’s parable such fruit that comes about is the produce of a way of life lived according to the Law. The time for gathering and receiving these fruits was the age of the prophets. The servants who were sent earlier and later are the prophets, who were sent by God at various times to seek these fruits, which fruits are the deeds of men.
The servants suffered indignities at the hands of the husbandmen, who beat one, such as Micheas the prophet, smitten on the cheek by Sedechias; another they killed, such as Zecharias, son of Barachias, slain between the temple and the altar; and another they stoned, as another Zecharias, the son of Joiada the priest; and there were many others. And finally the Son of God, Who appeared in the ﬂesh, was sent; and not only did the Jews not receive Him or reverence Him, but they handed Him over to death, crucifying Him outside the vineyard.
Though there were those rightly saying within themselves that this is the Christ, they led Him out of the city of Jerusalem and crucified Him: Thus, it is not hard to see in our parable that the elders of the people, the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, these transgressors of the Law are the wicked husbandmen of the vineyard.
Our Lord then asks:
When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do to those husbandmen? They say to him: He will bring those evil men to an evil end; and will let out his vineyard to other husbandmen, that shall render him the fruit in due season.
Having risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and taken His seat at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and this together with what He assumed, that is, with the humanity which He had taken, the Lord will assuredly be Himself the destruction those wicked men, those who were lawbreakers, murderers, wicked husbandmen. Even before the torments of the life to come He did judge and punish them by the desolation of their city, the destruction of their temple, and the evils which they miserably suffered. Inasmuch as they deliberately and unrepentantly alienated God from themselves and themselves from God, then what anguish, what condemnation, what punishment do they not invite? What punishment do they not themselves inflict on their own souls, both in the present age and in that which is to come?
The other husbandmen, those to whom the vineyard was afterwards entrusted, are none other than the Apostles, the teachers of the nations, and likewise all wise hierarchs and pastors of the faithful, who have received and have been entrusted the care the vineyard of Christ. Living a godly life, and taking good care of the vineyard, they shall surely render seasonable and abundant fruits.
Our Lord concludes in saying:
Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? By the Lord this has been done; and it is wonderful in our eyes.
The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the cornerstone, – a cornerstone which stands as the union to two walls. It is at the corner, the joining. And this cornerstone joins and unites two walls which before were separate. This cornerstone is Christ, our reconciliation, Who joined together what had been separated and made the two to be as one. He was placed at the head of the corner, meaning that He became the Head of the Church, uniting Jews and Gentiles in one faith. Just as a stone laid at the corner of a building holds two walls together, so also Christ joined together all men in one faith. This corner is marvellous, and it is the Lord’s doing; for the Church which contains us all and makes us one by faith is the Lord’s work, and it is worthy of great wonder, because it is well built and well founded.
It is also marvellous in another way, in that Christ’s word has been established and confirmed by miracles. The composition of the Church is marvellous; evil will never prevail over our faith, or over the correct dogmas of the Church of Christ. The kingdom of God, which is none other than familiarity with God – being of the family of God – is taken away from the perfidious and given to those who believe.
This is the lesson contained in what we have heard today, friends. This parable rebukes not only the unbelieving, but also believers who spurn the divine commandments and the injunctions of Christ. When the Lord, the Planter of the vineyard, comes to judge all at the final judgment, He will bring those evil men to the evil end they have chosen. There, as He said, shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Let us who believe therefore strive to cultivate Christ’s vineyard, so that, when fruits are required and must be rendered, we may be ready, and may be found like the tree which is planted by the streams of waters, and may bring forth our fruits in their season. May we be vouchsafed divine blessedness; may we enter the royal vineyard on high to gather there the grapes of the eternal grace of God, to press them in the winepresses of our hearts; and may we be satisfied and filled with their sweetness, and may we enjoy the eternal refreshment that comes from the true Vine; Who is Christ the Lord.