The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (21:33-42)
Our reading today is an interesting one because it is toward the end of the gospel of Matthew as our Lord has just entered into Jerusalem and is preparing for His saving passion and crucifixion. We may wonder why this reading would be appointed for this day? I can’t give you a scholarly or definitive answer but I would suggest that this is given to us as a precursor to one of the upcoming feasts which is the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, which we celebrate on September 14th.
The Church in her wisdom is always and constantly looking for ways to teach us, her children. Today we learn through this parable about the patience of God and the plotting of those who are evil. We are told of a householder, a man who owned land and had servants. This particular land also had a vineyard and a winepress on the property. This man, the master of the property rented it to tenants to watch over the affairs of the farm while we travelled to distant places. Most likely there was this arrangement where they would get a free place to stay and in return, they would work the land and perhaps even take a share of the produce.
So this man leaves town and find men that he thinks will be good tenants. And when the season of fruit drew near, this master sent one of his servants to the farm to get his share of the produce, or the fruit. But something very unexpected happened. The tenants did not welcome the servants of the master. In fact, just the opposite, they were angry and they abused and mistreated the servants. We are told that they “beat one, killed another, and stoned another.” That is really awful isn’t it? Well, what’s worse is that the master couldn’t believe it so he sent another delegation of servants. I’m sure that he hoped for a different response but it didn’t happen. In fact it was worse because the master sent more servants the second time. Finally, the master decided that he had to take this matter more seriously so he sent his true representative, his son. He said to himself “They will respect my son.”
Upon his arrival, the tenants saw the son and 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 in the greatest horror of all, they killed him.
This whole story, this parable, is taught to the people by Our Lord Jesus Christ with only one purpose. To show the people the history of God’s dealings with His people and their history of dealing with Him. The servants whom the Master sends are His prophets, both the minor and the major prophets. Most of whom were treated very poorly and sometimes were even killed by the Jewish people and especially the religious leaders. Why? Because they came demanding to receive the fruit that was due to God. They as God’s representatives desired to see the good fruit of the harvest? But what harvest? Grapes, wine, wheat, olives? No. God is concerned with the fruit of righteousness. He is concerned with the wine of holiness. He sent the prophets to the people to help them correct their lives and to truly put nothing before the love of God. But a curious thing happened and this same curious phenomenon continues to happened whenever one attempts to teach the truth or to make straight what is crooked within people’s lives. Many people rebel even further and become defiant in their will. They double down on their life choices and begin to attack those who are sent to help them, as we so clearly see in the case of this parable.
But the treachery did not end there. Not only did the Jewish people abuse and mistreat and kill some of the prophets, they took their treason to the extreme by condemning, abusing and delivering up God’s beloved, precious and innocent Son, like a lamb to the slaughter. Do you know how a father loves his son? Can you imagine it? Can we imagine how God loves His only Son Jesus? With a love more powerful than any force on earth. Yet in His overwhelming and abundant love for us He sent His Son to His rebellious people in the hopes that He would reach some of them and change some of them and bring some of them out of darkness and into glorious light.
It should awe us that the Lord shares this parable during the week in which He is going to be betrayed and killed. He knew. He saw it all as if in a picture book that He had already flipped through. He knew. Although He knew, He did not run, He did not hide, He did not change. He maintained the course. He was brave, He was courageous, He was focused on His task. What was that task? To teach the truth and to be sacrificed for us.
The leaders thought to reject Him and ensnare Him and convict Him and ultimately to kill Him. They thought they would gain everything by doing so. But the words of the prophet were fulfilled, “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.” They rejected Him and betrayed the one that they should have loved above all others, but their betrayal became a cause for joy to the whole world, to all those who know and love and follow after Jesus Christ as their lord and master. And what was achieved through this rejection and betrayal by the leaders?
St. Theophan the recluse writes, “The Lord accomplished our salvation by His death on the Cross; on the Cross He tore up the handwriting of our sins; through the Cross He brought upon us grace-filled gifts and all heavenly blessings.” My dear ones let’s not get distracted with all the stuff and the noise of this world. Let’s not reject Christ and his way of life and His teachings as some did. Let’s chase after the head cornerstone, the One who loves us dearly, for He alone can share true life with us. He alone can give us an imperishable inheritance, and this is indeed marvelous in our eyes.