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Holy Vintner

September 27, 2020

The use of vineyard and grape vine metaphors in this week’s Scripture lessons brought back memories of a few idyllic days we spent being driven though the hills and vineyards of Tuscany in the spring of 2017, listening to the beautiful music of the blind Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli.  During our drive through the countryside around San Gimignano, we stopped at a small family owned and operated vineyard, and met the owners.  Their son served us a multi-course lunch paired with their wines and olive oils.  The grapevines have been cultivated on their family’s estate for decades.  Growing grapes for wine is as much a science these days as growing any other crop.  Cultivating good grape vines and knowing when and how to harvest the grapes involves a combination of soil conditions, geography, climate, the type of vines chosen, and many other factors.  As with anything worth doing, years of knowledge and experience go into making good wine.

The Old Testament Scripture text[1] from Isaiah is called “The Song of the Vineyard”: “I will sing for the one I Iove a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.  He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines . . . Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit . . . When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? . .  “ (Isaiah 5:1-2, 4-5).  Isaiah’s song begins with the promise of a beautiful vineyard painstakingly cleared and planted with the best vines available.  He engages his audience in the imagery, drawing us toward an ending that one imagines will be that of enjoying a rare vintage over a wonderful meal with the vintner.  But instead, Isaiah writes a surprise ending–the vines produced only bad grapes.  How did that happen? Who are these workers who ruined the crop?  They were his audience.  They were the leaders of the nation Israel.  They were given the best vines and conditions by the holy vintners, and they squandered the gift.  

God has given us many spiritual gifts.  He encourages us to work in his vineyard and produce good fruit with the gifts he has given us—including the gifts of administration, leadership, evangelism, faith, helping, giving, hospitality, teaching, serving, mercy, and knowledge, among others.  We need to ask ourselves if we are using our God-given gifts in the way envisioned by the Creator or if we are squandering the gifts. 

The psalmist planted the seed of hope for a new vineyard that the Holy Vintner would plant.  His pleas to God in Psalm 80: 17 for the restoration of “The man at your right hand” can be understood in the context of the day to refer to Israel, whom God calls his “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22), but also as a reference to the Messiah and a plea to revive us today:  “Return to us, O God Almighty!  Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root of your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself . . . Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name” (Psalm 80: 14-15, 18).  God has given us a second chance.  If you squandered your gifts in the past—no worries—God’s Son planted a new vineyard.    God sent his Son to atone for our sins, and then sent his Spirit to remain with us.   He encourages us to work in his vineyard and to produce good fruit with the spiritual gifts he has given us. 

Through the use of vineyard metaphors, God is communicating to us that he puts us in places where we can thrive, and gives us the tools we need to produce good fruit. Wherever you are, you have been put in that place for a reason.  God has a plan for you, and will equip you with the best vines and tools available.  The Holy Spirit opens doors, but you must walk through those doors.  The Holy Spirit gives you gifts and tools, but you must pick up those tools and use them.  You need to work the vineyard.  You need to put in the sweat equity.  You need to put your heart and soul into the work.  If you do, you will bear the good fruit that God has in mind for you.

The gospel lesson continues the theme of God’s vineyard.  Jesus, the vintner’s son, has arrived. An audience has gathered to listen to him.   He looks beyond them in the outskirts of Jerusalem and sees a vineyard on a hillside.  The master storyteller tells a tale about a landowner who leased his vineyard to some farmers, with the understanding that he would harvest the fruit.  The tenants killed the servants the landowner sent to harvest the fruit, so the landowner sent his son to take care of the matter.  But the tenants killed the son as well.   In telling this story, Jesus was exposing the plot of the religious leaders who would kill him.  God is the landowner, who leased his vineyard to the tenants—the Jewish religious leaders.  The servants were the prophets and priests who remained faithful to God.  God finally sent his only Son to us in love, but he too, was rejected.  Jesus is imploring us to be faithful servants and to continue to produce good fruit.  He asks us to return the good fruits of our labor to him.

Paul says that his goal is to know Christ, to be like him, and to do what Christ wants him to do.  Whatever task God has in mind for you—keep at it.  Go through the open door and use the talents and the tools you are given.  Paul tells us “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it [his goal]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me . . .”  (Philippians 3: 13-14).  Like Paul, we have all done things that we regret, but Paul encourages us to close the door on the past.  Get rid of the guilt and set your mind on what is ahead—your hope in Christ Jesus. Don’t squander the gifts you have been given.  Use the abilities he has given you to produce good fruit. 

Wine or grape juice is a key element of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  When we are joined with Christ in the Sacrament, we receive his Spirit and are transformed into his body in the world.  We become his workers in the vineyard by carrying his love into the world.  God sent his Son to work the vineyard, and left us with his Spirit.  The Holy Vintner is a master vintner who knows what he is doing—he has been doing it “before all worlds.”[2]  We are blessed to receive an incomparable vintage every time we partake in the Sacrament and when we meet him in the private cellar of our hearts in prayer.  It is God’s gift to us—a legacy to us to carry into the world.  

God invites and challenges you to share the blessings of the fruits of your spiritual gifts with those around you.  Will you accept the invitation, and the challenge? 

Prayer: Gracious Father, we praise you and thank you for all that you are— omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, Creator, holy, eternal, loving, and forgiving.  We are sincerely sorry for all of the times we have failed you in thought, word, and deed, and ask for your forgiveness.  We thank and praise you for Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross, through whom we are given many chances to use the gifts you have blessed us with.  Thank you refreshing and strengthening us through the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Keep us strengthened in our faith, and in demonstrating our love to each other.  In your Holy Name, Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost are Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 7-19; Philippians 3: 4b-14; Matthew 21: 33-46.  A similar blog, “Trinity Vintners,” was published on this site in October, 2017.

[2] The opening lines of the ancient Nicene Creed are, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.’

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