We are now in the season of Michaelmas. The feast of St Michael and All Angels. Traditionally, in the church’s year, this is a time of ordinations of new priests and deacons. A time of celebration as we welcome and gives thanks for new vocations and new ministries.
Today we have two stories of vineyards.
In the OT the reading, from the prophet Isaiah, Israel is compared to a vineyard. A vineyard which has been established, planted and protected at great trouble by its owner. Not unreasonably he expected the vineyard to produce some good grapes. In the end all he got for his trouble was bad fruit. The story is a parable of Israel, which God called into being, loved and tended. He expected Israel to be righteous and obedient but found only blood shed and distress. Things have gone very seriously wrong – the chapter goes on to list a series of woes.
In the gospel we have another story of a vineyard. The parable of the wicked tenants which follows the labourers in the vineyard and the Father’s two sons which we had last week. It’s set in the context of the Pharisees’ demand to know from where Jesus’ authority comes from, a demand we recall Jesus refuses to answer directly. But there is a sense of urgency about this parable in the way it follows the others,
“what do you think ….listen to another parable….” Jesus says, as if he needs to press a point. And when Jesus has told this parable the penny finally drops with the crowd. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables they realised they were speaking about them”.
A large part of Jesus’ teaching took the form of storytelling in the form of parables, stories which reflected everyday life. it is generally a rule of thumb that they do just have one point. It is a mistake to concentrate on the details. However, today’s parable is an exception. In this parable the details do have a meaning. So, let’s think about the details we need to know.
The slaves whom the master sends to the vineyard clearly represent the succession of prophets who were sent to a rebellious Israel. The son stands for Jesus and the tenants represent Israel’s leaders. In Mark’s version the son is killed and then unceremoniously dumped outside the vineyard. In Matthew’s version the son is taken outside the vineyard and then killed, corresponding to the actual sequence of events of Jesus’s passion.
Jesus then reinforces the meaning of this parable by his reference to the stone that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone…….with a clear implication that he is that cornerstone. What Jesus is saying is that if the kingdom of God is rejected it is then offered to others.
When we think of today’s world particularly in the western world, we are very much a post Christian nation. Few people attend church regularly, study the scriptures and make a conscious effort to grow in faith. To most people the concept of God’s kingdom would be alien. But where there is the Holy Spirit there is hope…..as many as those who have turned their backs on Christianity, like the fruit in Isaiah’s vineyard, there are still many who continue to turn to Christ. God still calls people to his service, his spirit continues to work in us and through us, even if sometimes we may not always recognise it.
In this past year of global crisis, I’m sure many people will have felt a need to turn to a religious faith, to seek that sense of solace and hope that comes from engaging in the spirit, in a force that transcends humanity. Online worship has been readily available to so many in a way that wasn’t possible before perhaps……. inspiring and awakening spiritual souls.
But the fact is, and this is what this parable is illustrating, Christ is our cornerstone. The rock on which we build our lives. He is the foundation on which everything is built. To defy him is in the end to be crushed out of the richness and fullness of life which Christ brings to us.
A theme that is taken up by Paul in his letter to the Philippians as he tells them how important the saving love of Christ is. How it super seeds all our earthly cares and concerns. “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” And he goes on to say how it is worth striving for “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Our readings today remind us how significant and how desirable and how vital that calling is. In the words of today’s collect,
“Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”