The Orthodox Pages




17th November 2011


































































































































Continuing our analysis of the Parables, today we will hear two more: the Parable of the "Workers in the vineyard" and the Parable of the wicked tenants which also makes mention of a vineyard. Christ often makes reference to a vineyard to signify the Church or the vine for himself for example in John we read that Christ said "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5)
Christ uses the image of a vine because the branches of the vine can grow and cover vast distances especially if they are not pruned down every year. Symbolically it represents Christ who like the vine will reach far and wide and will become known throughout the world as the saviour of mankind. In the Old Testament the vineyard is often used to represent Israel although usually in their falling away from grace as in the verse from the Book of Jeremiah: "Yet I had planted thee as a fruitful vine, completely true: how then art thou turned into a strange vine of bitterness?" (Jeremiah 2:21)
But a good vine produces a good wine and its says that wine "cheereth God and man" (Judges 9:13) and that wine makes glad the heart of man (Psalm 103:15 KJV 104). In the New Testament wine truly becomes the joy of life by being transformed into the very Blood of Christ.
Let's then hear the first of today's Parables known as the Workers in the Vineyard.
"For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen." St Matthew 20:1-16
The Parable can be interpreted in two ways. The first, third, six, ninth and eleventh hours can be the various moments in an individual's life when the heart first hears and accepts the summons of the Word of God. Thus the first hour is someone's infant years, the third hour adolescence, the sixth hour maturity, the ninth hour retirement age and the eleventh hour extreme old age just before death or they can represent the various periods of the Church's history, when one or another nation was first summoned to take part in the work of salvation and the Kingdom of God. The first nation was Israel who were prepared by the Prophets, John the Baptist and the God-man himself to accept work in the vineyard of the Lord. Of this nation we have the Apostles and then other preachers who carried the Good Tidings throughout the whole world. The Gospel summons individual men and whole nations to work in Christ's fields. It calls all men to God's work who stand idle in the market place, spiritually adrift and unemployed.
The parable begins with the rising of the sun which is the first hour or in our times 6 o'clock in the morning, and ends with the evening the twelfth hour with is 6 o'clock in the evening or in spiritual terms the end of a man's life, his hour of death or the Second coming of Christ.
A vineyard needs care to bring forth good fruit, but it doesn't need many workers until the time for harvesting the fruit. Then many workers are needed and the owner of the vineyard must go out very early in the morning to find them. In the Parable the householder is Christ and the vineyard is the Church. Christ went out to hire labourers. Here we see two things: one - that Christ himself summons us Himself. In John's Gospel he says to the Apostles "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). Every good thought, every good impulse to labour for the Lord, for the salvation of one's soul, comes from the Lord: The Lord calls all unto salvation, calls all into His vineyard, into His Church to labour; but it depends on man to obey or not to obey this divine call. And two, it says that Christ hired labourers. Here we should not take every word literally to the letter and seek for a detailed explanation with a deep spiritual meaning. It is the normal thing to hire men and pay them for the work they do, but God never pays his servants. God promises a reward but it is never a payment for a job well done.
Having found the workers he agrees with them for a penny a day. If you remember last week's talk on the talents, a penny a day was the usual wage for a day's work during that time. According to the Law a worker had to be paid at the end of each day and not to be postponed until the other day to receive the reward for his hard work: "The wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning." (Lev. 19:13)
Then at about the third hour, the Lord went out and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and told them also to go and work in the vineyard and he would give them whatever was right. The hours are calculated with the rising of the sun which during the equinox there are 12 hours of daylight and 12hours of darkness. If sunrise is at 6am then the third hour is 9am. No one had hired these men so they were gathered in the market place hoping that someone would come along with an offer of work. That they were standing idle refers that they were without spiritual enlightenment and therefore were not working for their salvation. Their life was idle and without meaning. But note that the parable is not about those who refuse the divine calling because everyone mentioned was at some time waiting to be summoned to work. Also the parable is not about men who of their own initiative go and work in the vineyard without expecting to be paid at the end of the day.
The Lord said to them go into the vineyard and whatever is right I will give you. With the first workers the Lord agreed on a wage of one penny for a whole days work. With the second group who began work three hours later there s no agreement, but rather he reserves the right to give them what he feels would be deserving. At any rate, they would not have expected to be paid a full penny.
At the sixth hour which is midday, again the Lord went out and found others standing idle and again at the ninth hour. The sixth hour is midday and the ninth 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Again with these he agreed to give them what is right according to the hour they began work.
Then at the eleventh hour, just one hour before sunset and work would come to a stop, the Lord again goes out and finds others standing idle. The Lord asks them why they had stood there all day doing nothing and they replied that no one had hired them. They were therefore willing and able to work. But if we consider the interpretation of the hours as the various stages of our lives, it shows that we each obey God's calling when we are mature enough to accept it. God finds everyone when each is ready to hear his word. This doesn't mean that God waits until that moment when we will accept him to summon us, the Lord tells us in the Parable that he went out very early to hire labourers, he summons us from our infant age and at various stages in our life, but we don't hear this calling because we are not yet ready to receive him. The men of the eleventh hour probably began thinking of God because they were extremely old and approaching death, a time in a person's life when the mind is no longer preoccupied with the carnal passions, but with death and the fear of the unknown. But here the Lord reassures us that it is never too late, that even at this very late hour he is merciful and compassionate and will accept us into his kingdom if we also desire it. The thief on the Cross lived his life distant from God and his commandments but at the hour of his death the Lord accepted him into his kingdom because at that moment his heart accepted and allowed the Lord to enter in and enlighten him.
So the last men go into the vineyard to work for only an hour and when evening was come being the twelfth hour or 6 o'clock in the evening, the Lord tells the steward to gather the labourers and give them their wages. The twelfth hour signifies the hour of the Last judgement when all will be called to give an account of the work they have done or it can signify the end of someone's life and the personal judgement that follows. The steward can be an angel appointed to supervise the vineyard or if the Householder refers to God the Father then it can refer to Christ the Messiah, but here we should not look for a an allegorical interpretation; it is possible that Christ just introduced the steward to help give a more complete picture to the parable.
Significant is the way the steward was to give out the wages, he was to begin with the last to be hired and work down to the first to be hired. This is extremely unusual; one would expect those who had be working from the very beginning to first get their reward but they are purposely left till last so that they can see what is given to the others. The men of the eleventh hour are paid a penny for only an hour's work, also the men of the ninth, sixth and third hours. Some of these men especially those of the third hour might have thought that it was unfair for the men of the eleventh hour to receive the same as them, but no one complained because even they should not have received a full days wage. Seeing everyone get a penny the men of the first hour thought that if everyone else had received a full day's wage then they should be entitled to more, but they also were given a penny. They considered this very unfair and murmured and complained to the owner. How could he give them the same as the men of the eleventh hour who only worked an hour? They had laboured and sweated in the scorching sun all day, but the men of the eleventh hour worked only an hour in the coolness of the evening: it was unjust that they should not be given more. Their souls felt envy, unfriendliness, and condemnation of the owner's unfairness, which hurt their pride. How could those called "first" be equal to those who came "last?" The parable is not trying to say that there is envy in the kingdom of God. The righteous give their souls for another person and rejoice when someone is saved. The parable wants to teach us that envy can be a stumbling block and might be a cause for us to lose our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son also spoke in a similar manner: "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf" (Luke 15:29-30).
Envy can undermine the quality of our labour in the Lord's vineyard. We can work all day in a bad mood and do nothing good, but in one hour we can do much if it is done with love and trust in the Lord. Envy is a human weakness which we see all too often in life and especially in the Church. We see people who from a young age have devoted themselves to God and the Church diligently praying and keeping the fasts and fulfilling everything the Church requires of them, but then envy overcomes them and destroys all their good work when they see someone who has never led a Christian life suddenly change and is accepted into the bosom of the Church on an equal level with themselves. They see the grace of the Holy Spirit shine brighter in them than in themselves and are overcome with envy. They cannot understand why after all those years of devoting themselves to the Church with prayer and fasting, they shouldn’t shine brighter.
The Lord, hearing their complaints doesn't want to punish them, but correct them and make them understand that he is compassionate. He doesn't call them wicked and slothful servants as we heard in last week's parable of the talents but friends. And if they are to remain friends they need to be reprimanded and made to understand the error of their envy. The Lord said to one of them: "why do you think I have wronged you, didn't we agree that your reward for working in my vineyard would be a penny? I haven't done you any injustice, but on the contrary I have fulfilled my promise to you. Therefore stop complaining and take your reward and go home. If I have fulfilled my promise to you why should you be concerned what I do to others? If I want to give the last the same reward as the first that is my concern and not yours. Surely it's my right to do with my money as I want. You complain because my goodness and compassion for others has become an excuse for you to express your envy.
Notice that in the parable of the talents the money given to the wicked servant was taken from him and he was punished and cast into outer darkness, but here we have no punishment other than the reprimand: a gentle slap on the back of the hand. Those who complained still received their reward just as the others and the reward is the kingdom of heaven. The parable ends with the Lord saying "So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen." In other words, as you have heard in this parable everyone who worked in the vineyard will receive their reward, whether they became disciples of the kingdom from the beginning of the Christian era or whether they became disciples in the last times. In the distribution of the reward, there will be no distinction between the first and the last. It is possible for the pious and devoted servant who receives his calling at the eleventh hour to receive the same reward as the pious and devoted servant of the first hour. But there is a warning at the very end "for many be called, but few chosen." The many be called does not refer to everyone, but to those who accepted the calling, and of those only a few will actually make it to the kingdom of heaven because they have not learnt to overcome their human weaknesses. Maybe then the first did lose their participation in the kingdom after all.
This parable of the Lord teaches us that God sends grace and eternal life to man, not by measuring his works or his time inside the Church, but through God's mercy. The Jews thought that they deserved greater reward as the original members of the Messiah's Kingdom, greater than for Christians of non-Jewish descent who had joined this Kingdom later. But God has different measures of righteousness. He values sincerity, diligence, pure love, and humility more than the external human works done only as a formality.
St. John Chrysostom used this parable as the basis of his Easter Sermon which we read every year on Easter night before Holy Communion. I will read only an extract from the sermon.
"Whosoever is weary of fasting, let him now receive his earnings. Whosoever has laboured from the first hour, let him today accept his just reward. Whosoever has come after the third hour, let him with thanksgiving take part in the celebration. Whosoever has arrived after the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings, for he too shall suffer no loss. Whosoever has delayed until the ninth hour, let him approach without hesitation. Whosoever has arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not fear the delay, for the Master is gracious: He receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that has laboured from the first; and to him that delayed He gives mercy, and the first He restores to health; to the one He gives, to the other He bestows. And He accepts the works, and embraces the contemplation; the deed He honours, and the intention He commends.
Therefore let everyone enter into the joy of the Lord. The first and the last, receive your wages. Rich and poor, dance with each other. The temperate and the slothful, honour this day. Ye who have fasted and ye who have not, rejoice this day. The table is fully laden; all of you delight in it. The calf is plenteous, let no one depart hungry. Let everyone enjoy this banquet of faith."
Let's now see our second parable for today – the Parable of the Wicked tenants. All three of the synoptic Gospels give this parable and basically the details are the same. The version we will hear is from St. Matthew.
"There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet " St Matthew 21:33-46
As mentioned in the beginning of the talk, in the Old Testament the vineyard is often used to represent Israel and in this parable Christ is telling his audience how Israel was his very special and chosen people and what he did to protect them from other nations, how the spiritual leaders mistreated his help and in the end turned from him. As a result the promised he had made with them was taken from them and given to other nations who would accept him and live according to his commandments.
As Christ began the Parable, the Highpriests, the Scribes and Elders who heard him and knowing the Scriptures, would have immediately known that he was speaking about Israel because Christ described Israel as had the Prophet Isaiah: "Now will I sing for the wellbeloved a song of My beloved touching My vineyard. My wellbeloved had a vineyard upon an high hill, in a fruitful place. And I made a hedge round about it, and digged a trench, and planted a choice vine of Sorek, and built a tower in the midst of it, and digged out a wine vat therein: and I waited for it to bring forth grapes; but it brought forth thorns." (Isaiah 5:1-2)
In the parable God the Father is the Householder and Israel is the vineyard which once was in Egypt a dark land of sin and idolatry. To protect them from the dangers of idolatry God miraculously lifted them from this land of sin and transported them and planted them in Palestine, the Promised Land. Here the Jews increased in numbers and spread throughout Palestine like the vine in a field. But they also had to increase spiritually: to preserve the faith in One God and to learn to love him with all the heart with all their soul, with all their strength, and with all their mind. God didn't plant his choice vineyard and let it grow without also providing measures that would help protect if from those who could do harm to it. He hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower. These are all things that God gave to Israel. The hedging round about to protect it refers to the Law which he gave Israel which if they preserved and fulfilled it would protect them from idolatry, from the devil and from the influences of other nations. The tower he built from which the vineyard could be guarded against enemies refers to the temple. With their worship and prayers in the temple they could raise themselves spiritually to a higher level and not remain glued to earthly things. The Temple would help prepare them for the way of the Lord until the coming of the Lord who would be their true temple. The winepress, which the Lord dugout, is symbolic of the sacrificial altar where the Jews could make their animal sacrifices. Although God allowed animal sacrifices it doesn't mean that he was pleased with animal blood and meat. He condescended and allowed it because of the people's weakness and need to make these kind of offerings. He tolerated these sacrifices as a way of preparation for the people to accept the only true sacrifice that would take place at Golgotha which would save mankind. The winepress is also symbolic of the mystical presence of Christ who as the Lamb of God would take upon himself the sins of the world.
The Prophet Isaiah describing Christ's Ascension into heaven, presents the angels asking Christ: "Wherefore are thy garments red, and thine apparel as from a trodden winepress?" (Isaiah 63:2) In other words his garments and flesh which had been baptized in his own Blood were red and resembled someone who had just come out of a winepress after treading on the grapes. Thus the winepress is symbolic of the coming of the Messiah and his sacrifice on the Cross.
After preparing and taking all precautious for the vineyard, the householder let it out to husbandmen and went into a far country. The husbandmen or the farmers are the Highpriests, the Scribes and elders who God entrusted with the spiritual care to teach and guide his chosen people. After letting out the vineyard, the householder departed and went into a far country which denotes a period of divine silence, a period where God respected their freewill and independence and allowed them to live without any further interference or guidance from him. He had given them everything they needed to live righteously and live a life pleasing to God. All that was needed was for Israel to respond and bring to realization the role which God had assigned it.
But the Spiritual leaders of the people proved to be evil and did nothing of what they should have done. They closed their eyes and ears so that they would not see or hear all the things God had done for them and what he commanded them to do in the Law. Through arrogance and self-centeredness they disregarded the Commandments and forgot about God and became as strangers to him. But the time drew near when God would check to see what they had done. The time of the fruit drew near and God sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. The servants are the Prophets and the fruits refer to the good works of the people, the observance of the Law and the spiritual virtues they should have cultivated in their hearts. God sent Israel many prophets to remind the kings and priests of their obligations but they showed disregard and contempt for God and his prophets: as it says in the Parable they beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. On the one hand they had committed the gravest sin by murdering God's ambassadors and on the other hand they acted as though they had done nothing by going to worship and pray in the temple, which they did only as a formality to appear to the people as good and virtuous men. They showed no remorse for their wicked actions and even believed that they were righteous because they knew how to interpret the Law. They had outwardly observed the Law and appeared to be obedient to the word of God: so where was the need for them to repent? They were therefore raged with the prophets telling them that they had fallen away from God and the Law and were in need of repentance.
But God is slow to anger, patient, and long-suffering and sends even more servants in the hope they will hear them and repent of their evil ways, but again the Spiritual leaders of Israel took the prophets and slew them also.
Lastly, God sent his Son to them hoping that they would at least hear him, but they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. Here Christ is telling them what they will soon do to him, how they will take council against him and condemn him to suffer death on the Cross. Notice that they said this is the heir. They recognized that Christ was the Son of God and the rightful King of Israel. They thought that if they did away with him then they would be able to seize his inheritance, in other words they would have complete control and rule over the people of Israel. So they caught him and cast him out of the vineyard and slew him. Christ even foretells them where they would crucify him, out of the vineyard, outside of the city walls.
When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? Here the Lord is not referring to his glorious second coming, because the nations have not yet been received into the Lord's vineyard. He is referring to a time when God will return from the far country he had gone, a time when he will no longer keep silent, but demand of Israel to give account for what they have done. He asks them what the Lord should do to these husbandmen so that their punishment would be of their own judgment. They knew that the vineyard was Israel, but their self righteousness and arrogance blinded them to see that Christ was talking about them personally. They therefore said that God should destroy those wicked men, and rent out his vineyard to other husbandmen, who would love and obey his laws and who would bring forth good works and virtues.
Then Jesus said to them: "Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?" Christ quoted them a verse from Psalm 117. He calls himself a stone, a stone which the builders considered wasn't good enough to be used in a building and so rejected it. The builders again are the Highpriests, Scribes and Elders who accused Christ that he was not of God but that he had a devil. They rejected him and cast him out as a useless stone, but this stone which they thought was useless became the cornerstone of a new building. A cornerstone is a stone that joins and gives support to two walls and Christ joined together the Jews with the other nations and became the cornerstone and head of the Church: he is the cornerstone that joins together the Old and New Testaments. It is marvellous because of the great glory this cornerstone will receive which will also give support and glory to all the stones of the whole building, to all the faithful members of the Church.
Christ continues: Because you are the builders which rejected this cornerstone, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation which will be able to bring forth worthy fruits of good works. He doesn't say nations because all the nations will because as one nation of Christians.
From the image of the cornerstone Christ now uses another image of stone. Christ is the stone and whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. Again these images are taken from Isaiah and Daniel. In Daniel it says: "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands, and it smote the image upon his feet of iron and earthenware, and utterly reduced them to powder." (Daniel 2:34) The stone cut out of the mountain without hands is Christ who will crush to powder the great idol created by king Nebuchadnezzar. In the parable Christ uses this image to warn the Highpriests and Pharisees, who were scandalized and offended by him, that they cannot do him any harm and if they come against him they will trip over this stone and hurt themselves. But if he was to fall on them then they would be crushed to powder. Possibly a reference to when he will come again in glory and then they will be destroyed and cast into hellfire.
And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet. They feared the people, but they didn't fear God. Israel had not seen a prophet for 500 years the last being the prophet Malachi. The people therefore who heard the teachings of John the Baptist and Christ, and saw that they were not influenced by the Highpriests and Pharisees, showed them the greatest respect and honour.
We have heard two parables concerning vineyards. With the first Christ compared us to workers who are summoned to work in the vineyard called the Church and with the second we are compared to the actual vines in the vineyard which must bring forth good fruit. Elsewhere Christ describes himself as the vine and we as the branches. Like the branches of the vine that receive their strength from the stem and roots to bring forth fruit so also we must live with Christ to receive our strength and bring forth spiritual fruits of grace. Let the example of the lazy and wicked farmers prompt us to not to be like them but to become good workers of the Lord. Let us remain forever joined with Christ who is the householder and true vine.