Sunday, October 4, 2020 The Twenty seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A)
The tie in between today’s readings: Return on Investment
It starts out with a grand vision. Then you conceive a way to make this dream a reality. Conventional wisdom is inadequate. You must fabricate innovative solutions to reach your goal, because you are doing something totally out of the box here. You ignore the nay-sayers and plow past the opposition. You’re all in because this venture requires that you go big or go home. Finally, you launch. Skeptical analysts cast dispersions on your operation because they don’t see any return on investment. You stand unshaken. This is a multiphase project and you prepared for the setbacks, no…counted on them. Everything is going to plan. This is God’s program to establish His kingdom here on earth in what I’m calling the Vineyard Project. Using today’s readings, which revolve around a vineyard theme, let’s explore how God uses His relationships with Israel and the believers in Christ to create His Holy Nation here on this planet.
In our gospel reading in Matthew 21:33-43, Israel is portrayed as renters in God’s vineyard. There Lord had a contract with them starting with their forefather, Abraham, and continuing to Moses concerning their possession of the Promised Land. He would be their God and they, as His people, would follow and obey Him alone. Over time, this proved to be a strained relationship as Israel frequently cycled through patterns of idolatry and moral decay. God sent numerous prophets over many centuries to usher the people back into compliance. Many were martyred in their effort. Finally, He sent His Son, Jesus, whom they eventually crucified. The Pharisees unwittingly condemn themselves and the nation as they give Jesus the obvious conclusion to His story: the owner of the vineyard should clean house and start again. God did this in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews throughout the known world. That’s the macro view.
Isaiah 5:1-7 applies this theme to the individuals who make up the building blocks of their society. Here God uses His vineyard metaphor to recount His blessings and plans for them. After all the Lord’s labor, all His grapes turn out to be no good. Lamenting this outcome, God asks the rhetorical question, “What more could have been done?” The answer, of course, is nothing. The Almighty judges this hopeless situation by ripping up His vineyard and laying it waste. Psalm 80:9-20 replies to God from the grape’s point of view. Here the people acknowledge the goodness of God and their deplorable condition as they beg for another chance. But the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while you hope for a different result. Something new must happen. Psalm 80 also alludes to Jesus as the answer. In verse 15, He is the new shoot and branch that the Lord will plant. Verses 17-19 declare Him as God’s “right hand man” who will: revive, restore, keep, and save them from their plight.
But the Jews rejected Jesus. Christ Himself, in Matthew 21:43, said that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to others. Where’s the happy ending for the vineyard? The Apostle Paul clarifies this situation in Romans Chapter 11. When Israel rejected Jesus, their Messiah, it gave God the opportunity to offer the gospel to the Gentiles. The message of forgiveness from sins through the blood of Christ now belonged to the world. Anyone could claim the promises of God given to the Jews and become a descendant of Abraham, not by blood, but spiritually through faith. A new people emerge in the vineyard made up of Gentiles and believing Jews all joined as branches, to Christ, the living vine.
As branches, Jesus promises to abide in us if we abide in Him so that we may bear much fruit and have the assurance of answered prayer (John 15:5-11). Our reading in Philippians 4:6-9 gives practical advice on how to live and be fruitful to God’s glory:
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise ]dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
One last thought. In 1945, God gathered His people back again in the nation of Israel. Since the beginning of the New Testament, people all over the world have been coming to the Lord by faith through various means of church evangelization and I hope you have settled your sin situation with the Savior as well. This period, which is called the time of the Gentiles, is still going on now, but it will end. When it does, fantastic things are prophesized concerning the kingdom of God as the Lord turns His attention back to the Jews. So, whether the Lord is building His kingdom spiritually in your life, or we look to a nation of His people on the world stage, rest assured, God is working and the Vineyard Project is going according to plan.