Perhaps we are challenged from time to time to explain the Holy Bible, or our own faith. Perhaps few things in Sacred Scripture explain God’s Word better than the story of God’s vineyard, as sung by Isaiah and repeated by Jesus as a parable.
Every Israelite and Jew knew Isaiah’s song of his friend’s vineyard, written perhaps 700 years before Jesus’ birth, prior to the Babylonian Exile. Everyone knew the vineyard referred to Israel and Judea and Jerusalem. The vineyard and the garden were God’s blessings to his people, prepared especially for the people He loved. Adam and Eve defiled the Garden with their disobedience and had to leave the Garden. They lost their eternal life by their Original Sin.
The song of the vineyard was the history of Israel. The way Jesus told it was the History of Man’s Salvation. In the vineyard stories we receive a bird’s eye view of the entire story in the Bible.
Psalm 80 summarizes the stories:
The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.
A vine from Egypt you transplanted;
you drove away the nations and planted it.
It put forth its foliage to the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River.
Isaiah’s “friend” is the Lord. God created the vineyard for His people, with a hedge around it as protection, His Commandments. The tower is King David’s throne, and the tower could have been the Temple.
What actually grew in the vineyard turned out to be “smelly” grapes, “sour”, “wild” grapes, not good grapes. Isaiah begins his song about his “friend”. The original word in Hebrew meant “smelly” grapes. We all know his friend was God. Halfway through the song it turns out that God, Himself, is telling the story, asking,
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes,
did it bring forth wild grapes?
Centuries had passed since God formed the nation of Israel in the “Promised Land”, beginning with Abraham, Moses and King David. God’s people had since divided the Kingdom of David into two nations after a civil war; Israel to the north and Judah and Jerusalem in the south. They made pacts with other nations and accepted pagan gods into their midst, even defiling the Temple of God with pagan idols. Human sacrifices were common, including children. Superstition was rampant. People have turned their backs on God’s Commandments and their special relationship with God, Isaiah’s “friend”. People had become the “stinky” grapes.
Finally, God became impatient with Israel. In Isaiah God foretells the fall of Israel, the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon.
Now, I will let you know
what I mean to do with my vineyard:
take away its hedge, give it to grazing,
break through its wall, let it be trampled!
Yes, I will make it a ruin ….
And, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. Seventy years later, after the exile, Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the Temple. But soon, they would again turn their backs on God.
Jesus uses the same vineyard story that Isaiah gave us, but with a few changes and updates. Israel’s religious leaders frequently had God’s prophets persecuted or killed. This was to be Jesus’ fate as well. Jesus was the landowner’s son in the parable. The son was killed by the tenants of the vineyard.
Pay attention to the timing of Jesus’ parable of the vineyard. At this moment, Jesus had already entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He was at the very end of his ministry. Jesus went into the Temple and drove out the money changers. The leaders of the Temple are angry with Jesus and confronted him. Jesus first told them the parable of the two sons told to go work in the vineyard. One says “Yes” but doesn’t go. The second son says “No” but repents and then goes. This is the story about these very leaders who say “Yes” to God, but do not carry out His Will. The others are the sinners, prostitutes and publicans who repent and do the Will of the Father. That was the Gospel reading last week.
All of this happens in the Temple area a few days before the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus was arrested in a garden?
After Jesus told the Temple leaders the parable of the vineyard, he asked them,
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
This was the response of the chief priests and Temple leaders. By this they condemned themselves, probably ignoring that the parable was about them.
Jesus gives them the verdict that his Apostles and his Church will succeed them.
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
This encounter happened in the Spring of the year 33 AD. Within a week Jesus was arrested and crucified, buried and Resurrected. The Church he built upon the Apostles emerged and quickly spread throughout the world, with the power to forgive sins and provide the Holy Sacraments.
The vineyard is now the entire world. We are the tenants in the Vineyard. We are to yield good grapes, justice and peace, and spread the Gospel.
Today we are living in a world of much strife and fear, with the pandemic, the violence in America’s cities and a very divisive political moment in our nation’s history. Jesus told us, “Be not afraid” and “Do not lose your peace.”
When your faith is challenged, or your knowledge of Scripture is questioned you might respond,
- “I live in the vineyard”
- “I work in the vineyard”
- “The Church is the vineyard, built upon the “Apostles”, by Jesus.
It’s in the Bible.