“The Lord told this parable…” It is the beginning that we ‘add’ to a Gospel reading in which we, in our time, are going to be taught by a parable that our Lord used to teach in the time of His ministry. The words are not part of the scripture itself. They are present, inserted by us to get our attention, kind of like our use of the words, “Wisdom! Let us attend!” “Wisdom!” is a proclamation that says to us, “What is coming contains great learning for us, if we are willing to pay attention.” And then, “Let us attend!” is exactly that very command – “PAY ATTENTION!!!”
The vineyard is our own soul. From the parable, the Landowner (the Creator, God in Trinity) has “planted” this vineyard, He has gifted my soul to me. He has set a hedge around it, and as Fr. Andrew points out, this “hedge”, this protection, is that which protects our souls, protects us spiritually. And so naturally our minds are drawn to our guardian angel, to our patron saint, and to our own prayers. But don’t neglect the other elements of protection given us as gifts from God. There are the prayers of parents for us as children, whether they remain here with us or whether they have gone to be with the Lord. Equally there are prayers of children for us as their parents. There are the prayers of people whom we’ve been led by the Lord to be benefactors to them – and we can’t ignore the truths that a beggar’s prayer for us when we offer them help can be just as important as any of these other prayers. And what of coworkers, or bosses, or even subordinates in the workplace. Or even that person we allowed to go before us at a traffic light – perhaps they offered a prayer for us as well. All of these, and more, become for us our “hedge”, protecting us from evils and temptations and failings that play against our search for salvation.
The wine-press is where we offer ourselves to Christ. What is a wine press? Look it up, and what do you find? “It is a device that exerts controlled pressure to extract the sweet juices from the fruit.” In our lives, God gives us the gifts of being tried, of needing to call upon Him when we find ourselves in need, or in trouble, or in illness, or in any number of situations where our human intellect isn’t enough to get us through the particular situation. He exerts controlled pressure to engender in us the movement of drawing nearer to Him, of calling upon Him, of learning to depend upon Him, and not on our own abilities, or those of any in this world. The definition of the press goes further to state that “the pressure must be controlled, especially with grapes, in order to avoid crushing the seeds, which would release undesirable tannins into the wine.” The result of the press is to be something very sweet – just as our offering of ourselves to Christ is to be!
The tower is our inner church where we pray to God. What is this “place for prayer” within us? Our Lord taught us, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father Who is in the secret place; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Mat 6:6) The Holy Fathers teach us that “your room” can be taken both literally and figuratively. “Your room” in the literal sense should be that place in which you have the ‘tools’ required for prayer – a place of peacefulness, untouched by worldly things, where you can place yourself before icons to aid in your prayer. In the figurative sense, “your room” must be that ‘secret heart’ spoken of by David when he said, “Teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Ps 51:6) Either of these places is “a tower” in that it should rise above the levels of all things earth-bound. Your prayer is that which elevates you to the heavenly, which allows your spirit to leave this plane and connect with the place to which your heart is called – to the place of salvation that we spoke of last week, to the place of eternal life in Christ.
We are tenants of our God-created souls. God has blessed us with the gift of life. We all know of people who reject this gift as being “good”. They life a life of misery – for no good reason. As we’ll discuss in our Adult Study sessions over the next several weeks as we read “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” by Elder Thaddeus, one person can be miserable while having all apparent blessings, and another who appears to be put upon from all sides can be in bliss. The “building” of our souls between these two disparate people differs little from one to the other. It is the tenant who is different. One diligently cares for the building given to live in and brings blessings to those who approach. The other trashes the building, and in so doing brings troubles to any who approach him or her.
The servants sent to us are all those occasions when God speaks to us. He speaks to us in prayer, He speaks to us through the word of His Holy Scriptures, He speaks to us through every opportunity, every meeting, every event that comes into our lives. He speaks to us through the presence of His Church in the world. Look backward in your life. Who had the greatest positive impact on you as a person, with ‘positive’ meaning moving you toward that goal of attaining eternal life? Perhaps it was a parent, but it’s equally likely that it might have been a grandparent, or even an ‘adopted relative’. In our lives, Popadia was blessed to come to ‘adopt’, or better stated, be adopted by, a wonderful woman who became her sponsor upon entering the church. In a worldly sense, there was nothing special about her. Oh, she had a beautiful voice, and enjoyed opera, but on the level of person-to-person, she was ‘nice.’ But on the spiritual level, she exuded faith. Elderly, she labored to be at divine services. She taught us “young people” so much about living a life of faith – lessons that can’t be purchased, but are only recognized as gifts from God after looking backward on them. That’s one example. You no doubt have your own. Cherish these, and from what you’ve learned, share even moreso to those who need YOU to be that “gift from God” of being His servant sent to others to speak to them about faith. All of these cause the vision of the Church to be “alive” to those who see in us a faith that cannot be shaken by old age, or weakness, or infirmity, or worldly cares. Our steadfast holding to our faith needs to speak to those who look at us for strength. We can show what the presence of our Lord’s Church in this world means to gaining eternal life. We can, and we must!
And how do we react? Do we reject everything sent to us, everything allowed to us, as a chance to do better, to make good our weaknesses? Do we fail to heed God? Do we ignore the Church? If so, then we also beat and stone and kill the servants of God. God forbid that we should adopt the perspective of the wicked servants of our Lord’s parable today! “Making good our weaknesses” carries with it the responsibility to depend upon, call on, and believe that we will receive deliverance through His strength. If I “stand firm in my faith and am courageous,” as St. Paul encourages in today’s Epistle, then my weaknesses are of no consequence. There is no personal weakness if we draw on the strength of the Lord. Carrying Fr. Andrew’s analysis just a tad bit further, it is not only our ignoring the Church that equates to beating and stoning the servants that God sends to us, but it is any choice we make that separates us from the elements we’ve just outlined – rejection of dependence on our patron or guardian, rejection of prayer, accepting suffering as an evil as opposed to a gift that can draw us nearer to our Lord.
We are warned: the Heir is coming. We all know what time it is. If the Lord’s return is not at the very door, it is certainly on the horizon. Time indeed is drawing short. Our Lord has delivered to us clear instruction as to how we must prepare for His return. His instructions are not only clear, they are simple. Repent. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Pray. Care for the poor and needy.
There was a writing from Fr. Seraphim Rose that beautifully expresses these ideas. It says, “Only struggle a little more. Carry your Cross without complaining. Don’t think you are anything special. Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are. And, especially, love one another.”
May we all embrace the simple message of our Lord, and live as He directs, for our own salvation, and for the salvation of those whose lives can be changed by what they see in us!
Glory to Jesus Christ!