Summary: Proper 22 (A) As Christians, we bear fruits of righteousness in our lives because we live in Christ. We are grafted into Him, the true vine. He bore our grapes of wrath so that we may bear grapes at last. Grapes that will last. Now and into eternity.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Grapes of Wrath, Grapes at Last”
Our Gospel reading today brings us to a third parable of Jesus about a vineyard. In the first one, the owner of the vineyard went out, hiring workers throughout the day, and yet paid each of them the same. Why? Because the reason they were even in the vineyard, and the reward they received, was not of their own doing, but out of the goodness and grace of the owner. We, too, are in God’s kingdom and receive His mercy, not out of our merit or worthiness, but out of His grace and goodness. In the second parable, the owner had two sons. One said he would not work, but did. The other said he would, but did not. Just as the son who went, responded to the word and authority of the Father, we respond to Christ’s words to us. He has all authority, over sin, over death, and over the devil, and so we live our lives in the kingdom for Him.
Now Jesus tells a parable where instead of hired hands working in the vineyard, instead of sons who tend the vineyard for their father, the owner has let out the vineyard to tenants, to sharecroppers. The time of harvest draws near, and he sends servants to collect his share of the crop, His portion of the grapes.
But instead of receiving grapes from the tenants, they receive wrath – beaten, whipped, and killed. Learning of this, the owner sends another delegation. “More than the first” does not necessarily mean a larger group, but of more authority. He sent the foreman, the straw boss. But again, no grapes, but wrath. So now the owner says to himself, “I will send my own son. There will be no doubt about who he is, his position, his authority, his right to demand and collect my share of the crop. They will listen to him.” The owner was right. This time the tenants know who it is. “This is the son” they say. But do they turn over the grapes? No. The son did not receive the grapes at last, but the grapes of their wrath, their self-centeredness, and their greed. They bizarrely reason: “He will inherit this vineyard. If we kill him, it will be ours.” How can that be? Sure, the son would be out of the way. He would not be there to inherit. But how would that put them – outsiders and strangers – in line to inherit?
“What will the Lord of the vineyard do,” Jesus asks. “He will kill those wicked tenants and turn the vineyard to others who will give him their fruit in due season.”
Jesus’s parable is highly similar to the tale of the vineyard told by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah’s vineyard was planted by the owner. It had a watchtower and a wine vat. In Jesus’s parable the master planted the vineyard, fenced it, put in a winepress, and built a tower. When the master of vineyard in the parable sent servants to receive the grapes, they did not yield the grapes, but wrath. The beloved, the owner, Isaiah says, went to look for grapes. But the vineyard did not yield grapes. Isaiah’s vineyard produced only wild grapes, grapes not of justice or righteousness, but of outcry and bloodshed. And it was the tenants in the parable who cried out. And from their wrath, there was bloodshed.
Isaiah’s song of vineyard was about the people of Israel, and their disobedience and rejection of God, His rule and His way. Jesus’s parable, likewise, in the first instance, is specifically directed to the Pharisees and Sadducees, to the religious leaders of His day. They had been placed in charge of Israel. Yes, Caesar was there, with the Roman government, but these leaders were God’s representatives. They were to watch over Israel for God’s benefit. But they did not Jesus, the son of God, appears. But they reject him. And so Christ says, the kingdom will be taken from you and handed over to others. So, now, if Isaiah is about Old Testament Israel, and it is, and this parable is about the Pharisees and the Sadducees, what about us? Does this parable have any application, Church, to you and to me?
Like the tenants, mankind has been in rebellion against God. The vineyard did not belong to the tenants, but to the master. And yet, the tenants did as they pleased. They kept the grapes for themselves. The Garden of Eden did not belong to Adam and Eve. Yet they did as they pleased. They took the fruit, which was not theirs, for themselves. We do as we please. The earth is not ours. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Psalm 24. We make our own rules. And find ourselves, from time to time, full of self-centeredness, “what I think, what I want, what I feel,” full of greed, we are always wanting more, more, more. And we eat the bitter grapes of wrath of disobedience. Adam and Eve who walked with God in the coolness of the garden by their own sin, their own choosing, were separated from Him. They hid themselves from Him, knowing of their own guilt and fearing His wrath.