Wednesday 30 July 2014
A Homily on the Parable of the Vineyard
I would like us to briefly consider a few points from the Gospel reading we have just heard. Our Lord provides a parable to teach a spiritual lesson to his disciples. A parable is a story with a meaning, a way of graphically communicating a truth which might be much harder to grasp. What is this parable all about? It is a description of the history of mankind’s rejection of God’s tender and loving approaches. The Old Testament records for us what happened as God gave his people, Israel, opportunity after opportunity to turn to him, to be faithful to him, and to become truly his own people, a witness for the whole world.
The culmination of this parable describes the longsuffering owner of the vineyard finally sending his own son to the ungrateful and disobedient tenants. But they take him, and kill him outside the vineyard.
Our Lord is speaking of his own death, which was soon to take place. He already knew, being God made man, that he would, like the owners son, be taken outside the city walls and put to death. Being made man, while remaining truly God, our Lord, the Son of God, experienced the pain of being rejected by men. His was a truly human body, with a truly human mind and heart, yet he was also God. If we remember last week’s Gospel, we read that Jesus was moved the by the grief of Lazarus’ friends and family, and that he wept. Likewise we should understand that he felt the pain and hurt of being despised and rejected by those he had come to save. Indeed how much more must our Lord Jesus Christ have felt these things, since he knew the heart’s and mind’s of men, he knew what they were thinking, and he had become man so entirely selflessly, so entirely out of love, that to be rejected must have been too painful for anyone but God to bear.
How was he able to continue on this path that would lead to his death, and to our salvation, if he knew that many of those around him not only rejected him, but were actively seeking his destruction?
It seems to me that the answer is that he knew who he was. He knew that he was the Father’s son, and he had been sent by the Father to do his Father’s will. It was this relationship with his Father which sustained him even in the face of almost complete opposition. Even while the mob shouted ‘crucify him, crucify him’, he was thinking only of the purpose for which his Father had sent him, and he prayed, Father, forgive them.
I would like us to take a few thoughts for ourselves from this parable. In the first place, there are times when by our lives and by our thoughts we also reject God, and turn away from Christ. Sometimes this is willingly, and we think that we will go our own way, enjoying life to the full, until, like the Prodigal Son, we come to our senses, discover that we are sitting in a pig sty, and realise that we must go home to our Father. Sometimes this is unwillingly, we can be like the disciples who ran away when the soldiers came for Jesus. It wasn’t planned, indeed we had been so sure that we would be faithful to Christ to the end, but when we were put under the pressure of temptation we found ourselves crumbling and abandoning our Lord. Sometimes it is almost unthinking. We might even have considered ourselves in a spiritual frame of mind, and then someone asks us something, or some situation suddenly arises, and we have forgotten Christ, and find ourselves relying on our own resources, this is no less a betrayal. The deliberate sin, the fall into temptation, and the forgetfulness of Christ are all simply different ways of rejecting him. He comes to the vineyard of our heart each day, as the Son of the Father who made us and loves us, and asks for entry. We have the choice, he gives us the choice. Will we make him welcome in our hearts and lives, not just in special moments, but through each of the days of our life?
Let us also apply this parable to ourselves. There are times when we also feel rejected. Sometimes we might feel rejected by others. Sometimes we might feel rejected by ourselves. Sometimes we might even feel rejected by God.
There is a voice we hear, whispering to us. Sometimes it is the voice of someone shouting at us! You are nothing. You have achieved nothing. You will achieve nothing. This voice, however we hear it, is nothing more than a temptation of the devil, of the enemy of our souls. He whispers words like these to encourage us to give up. To give up on ourselves and on others. We are tempted to think that if we don’t matter then no-one else does either, and so we can become selfish, self-centered, pre-occupied with our own pleasure, even self-destructive. How many of the thousands who get themselves too drunk to even stand up every Friday and Saturday night are not actually having the great time they pretend to themselves, but really have a very low opinion of their own worth and are trying to drown out the thought that their life means very little.
We are worth more than that. And every person around us is worth more than that. In the Church we are gathered into a community of broken people who have been purchased at a great price. The price is the very life of the Son of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ was not a great prophet. He was not a spiritual teacher. He was and is truly the Son of God, God Himself, who became man, who became Jesus, while remaining God, so that he might live our life as one man who was truly and completely obedient to God, truly and completely in union with God. And living that life he made it possible for each one of us, united to him in a manner we cannot understand in the waters of baptism, to also share in a new life united with God.
He bore the insults of men for us. He bore the beating, the crown of thorns, and then the death on the cross, for each one of us. This is how much God believes you and I are worth. It was not the nails which held him to the cross, it was his love for you and I. And when he suffered death for us, a death he did not deserve, he destroyed that power of the enemy, of the devil, which allowed him to say, ‘You are nothing’. Indeed his love for us is so great that death could not hold him in its grasp, and the power of his love destroyed even death for us.
Yes, our physical and frail bodies will wear out, but we will follow him, through death into life. And more than that we can experience this life with God now. This is how much you and I mean to God. Let us have faith. Let us work with all of our energies to strengthen this relationship we have with the God who loves us, by prayer, by fasting, by the study of the Bible, by seeking to do his will, and by worshipping him with others who belong to him.
We will certainly be rejected by others, knowingly and unknowingly, deliberately and without meaning to. We will be hurt and feel pain. But these feelings need not dominate us or control us. We are children of God, if we belong to God and if we welcome God into our hearts and lives. He values us and loves us more than his own life. He has moved heaven and earth to unite you to himself.
Therefore let us live as children of God. In the light, putting away all thoughts and deeds of darkness. Loving one another, as he loves us. And seeking in all that we do to follow his will, and grow closer to him.
To the glory of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.