Friday, March 11, 2016

Learning to produce the good fruit through the Gospel.


But when they saw him, they said to themselves, "This is the heir!  Let us kill him, so that the inheritance might become ours."  And so they threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him!  What then will the master of the vineyard do to them?  He will come, and he will destroy those tenants, and he will give the vineyard to others.  When they heard this they said, "God forbid!"  Luke 20:14-16

When these powerful men overheard the Lord's parable that day their instant response was, "God forbid!"  They knew that Jesus was talking about them and it made them see red.  In Scripture God forbid is the strongest possible negation that can be uttered by human lips.  We are all familiar with it, not because it is so common, but because we know the opposite word, scripture's strongest possible affirmation, the word Amen.  God forbid and amen are in the same class, only are polar opposites.  They both express the wholehearted desires of a person.  They both bring to the lips the deepest yearning of the heart; one for, the other against.  The scribes and chief priests were definitely against what Jesus had to say that day.

However, Jesus was not speaking to them.  He was speaking to the crowds who loved Him and saw Him as their deliverer from these bad actors.  By this parable He was informing them of what lay ahead, of the death He would have to endure in order to gain salvation for them.  Though Jesus was not talking to the priests and scribes, He was speaking within earshot of them, so that they too would hear His message, so that they too might repent and understand who Jesus was and what God sent Him to do.  Jesus did not hate them, He loved them, and the death He finally suffered at their instigation would be for their sins too.  "Father forgive them," He prayed from the cross, "for they know not what they do."  How could they?  They were One Note Johnny's, fanatics in the worst sense of the word who suffered from tunnel vision in the extreme, and while it is good to be ardent in  your endeavors, there is such a thing as over-doing it, even in matters of religion, even in righteous causes, because in this world, "not nearly good enough" is often as good as it gets.

Who were these men who wanted Jesus dead?  In their defense they were patriots who loved their country and churchmen who loved their religion, but they were by no means pure.  They had power to do good, to look out for their church and their state, but they abused it.  They used it for their own gain and make no mistake, they had blood on their hands, yet this was not a new story.  God chose Israel to be His own people and by the superior way of life He gave them, He wanted them to be a light to the Gentiles, one that would draw the whole world back to Himself, but that is not what happened.  Instead, as often as God sent prophets to wake the people up, they rejected them, beat them, killed them and threw them out of the vineyard.

There is one thing about God's love: nothing can stop it, not even ferocious rejection and passionate hatred, so God sent His Son, but unlike men, God is no fool.  He is no Pollyanna.  He is not ignorant of the evil that drives the human heart, your heart!  He did not expect that His Son would fare any better.  He did not suppose that when He gave this incomparable gift "for us men and for our salvation" that people would lay aside their enmity, ask Jesus into their hearts and start a world-wide chorus of Kumbyah.

Instead He knew that He was sending His Son to be a lamb among wolves, that He was delivering Him into the hands of men more cold-blooded than an angry Colombian drug lord, but in the wisdom of God, our Savior's suffering and death were necessary, for they are the only cure for the world's sin, the only thing that can quell sin's judgment and cancel sin's appalling consequences.  Only the blood of Jesus, poured out once for all, can do that.

We also discover from this parable that Jesus is God's final word to the world  He is the stone which the builders in our parable rejected!  He is the capstone that holds the whole building together.  He is the rock on which we can stand, the secure rock on which we can build, the high rock that lifts us up far above the reach of the enemies that seek to devour us.

We also learn here that God took the vineyard away from these fruitless farmers and gave it to us.  The church is the "new thing" Isaiah predicted, the new vineyard of God, we are the true heirs, but what will we do with it?  Will we be like the previous tenants who violated the trust that was given them?  Or will we, like St. Paul, count all things as rubbish in order to gain Christ and to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of our own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ?

We are God's vineyard.  It is a fitting metaphor because vineyards produce grapes, which produce wine, which produces abiding gladness and joyous celebration, but it is not only a metaphor because wine is also one of the church's essential elements in holy communion, the one that by our Lord's word becomes His blood, transfuses the life of Jesus into us and quenches our thirst for righteousness.  This in turn empowers us to produce the fruits of righteousness:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!  It enables us to forget what lies behind us and to strain forward to what lies ahead, to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, and to attain to resurrection from the dead.  God grant your people all of these things for Jesus' sake.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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