The Family of God: Bearing Fruit for His Glory”
October 8, 2017: The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 5: 1 – 7/ Psalm 80: 7-14/ Philippians 3: 17 – 21/ Matthew 21: 33 - 44
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
The parables in the last few weeks include a vineyard. The vineyard is a depiction of the people of God, Israel. We should be thankful because it is a privilege, an honor and a joy. Whereas we were idle, sitting in a market place, nobody hiring us, not producing any fruit, not earning and without anything to feed our families with, the gracious landowner got us and gave us the privilege of working in His vineyard. We are a Eucharistic thankful people. We work in the vineyard; we bear fruit for His glory; but it is inevitable that we ourselves are blessed by doing so.
God does not need anything from us. He doesn’t need our produce; what He is after is our joy, our fulfillment and our abundant life. In fact, what He had, He gave away so that we can have this abundant life. Our thanks to Him rises up as a sweet, smelling aroma to His nose. Our complaint, our ungratefulness rises up as a sour grape, a bitter aroma.
The gospel in Matthew 21 is a parable that Jesus uses: the Parable of the Tenants. A gracious owner planted a vineyard and chose the good vine, and he built a wall around it. They were protected by hedges. He also built a winepress and a tower in the middle of it for the watchmen to guard the vineyard. All of these, the gracious landowner provided, and Isaiah asks, “What more could I have done? What did sour grapes bear fruit?”
Christ gave His life, what more could He do? He gave us everything pertaining to life and godliness, every spiritual blessing from the heavenlies and withheld nothing. It is natural for Him to expect that we bear fruit – not that He needs it – but because He gave all. We are expected to cultivate, to preserve the God-given life that He already planted.
In the Garden of Eden, there was already fruit for man; he had already sustenance at that point. He was expected only to preserve it primarily for his sake. We have been given unity in the Body. What are we supposed to do with it? We are to simply preserve for our own sake.
Israel, as represented by the religious leaders and the elders of the people did not produce that which pleasing to the God. If you compare the sentiments of Isaiah and the Psalmists and their reasoning, Isaiah has God asking, “Is it just right that You expect good fruit? What else do I have to do?? In the Psalms, it is like the psalmist was blaming God “Why did you destroy the wall of protection? Thus, the produce was eaten by the enemies.”
It is also interesting how Matthew ended his narrative showing the difference between the religious leaders and Christ’s sense of justice. Jesus asked, “What will the landowner do to those tenants?” The answer of the religious leaders was, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end. He will destroy them.” Jesus did not answer by saying the God will destroy them, but what He said was, “What God will do is take the kingdom from you, guilty vine growers, and give it a nation producing its fruit.”
When Nathan confronted David over his sin with Bathsheba, Nathan used a parable about a rich man with sheep and who had a visitor. He was not willing to slaughter any of his sheep for the visitor. His relative had only one sheep, and that was which was slaughtered. Nathan asked David, “What should be done to this evil person?” David said, “He should be killed, and be made to pay several times.” David’s own sentence was not meted out to him. What David got from God was mercy.
In Luke 4, Jesus was in the synagogue and was given the Book of Isaiah to read. He read out of Isaiah 61, and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me…” and He ended the reading of Isaiah, “To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” He closed the book without saying anything about vengeance. In Isaiah 61, it says, “….to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God.” When the vinegrowers did not produce, the religious leaders said that they should be destroyed. What Jesus said is to take the kingdom from them and give it to the others. God has an agenda for doing this. The CEC Canon says the goal of all discipline is restoration, not destruction. God is a God of restoration and reconciliation. Behold, He makes all things new. Jesus is held in the heavens until the restoration of all things. God’s business is to restore and to reconcile all things to Himself. St. Paul said to a person committing adultery, a sin that was so bad that was not committed by the Gentiles, “What I have decided to do is to deliver this person’s flesh for destruction of Satan to save his spirit.” The end purpose is not destruction, but restoration.
Our positive response to bear fruit is for our preservation and fullness of life. We do it with an attitude of giving glory to God, and in the process, we benefit from it. Punishing us, we won’t deliver, and won’t give God produce. Destroying us won't give God produce. If He gets other people to do the job that we did not do, then, there will be fruit. God’s agenda is for us to be stirred to jealousy for the purpose of coming back to Him and being restored. This is the reason why He is taking the kingdom from those who don’t deliver and produce fruit.
After Paul had gone through from the failure of Israel, from the rejection of God, he says in Romans 11:11, 13-14. “Does this mean that God has rejected his Jewish people forever? Of course not!” He is not in the business of permanently destroying.” “His purpose was to make his salvation available to the Gentiles, and then, the Jews would be jealous and begin to want God’s salvation for themselves. 13 As you know, God has appointed me as a special messenger to you Gentiles. I lay great stress on this and remind the Jews about it as often as I can, 14 so that if possible I can make them want what you Gentiles have and in that way save some of them.” God stirs us up by jealousy so that we will come back to Him.
Israel failed to realize that cultivating and working in the vineyard is a blessing, not a curse. They had become the twelve-hour workers, the 6’o’clock workers in the vineyard who were ungrateful for the opportunity that was given to them to work. They complained of the heat, the heavy-lifting. They became like the older brother of the prodigal son who was in the house of the father, enjoying his presence, and yet, did not see it as a blessing. These were allusions to the religious leaders. We are the older brother of the prodigal son. We are the ones who worked for twelve hours in the vineyard. We did not see the blessing, but the curse which is not there. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, and they were being taken to the Promised Land, and what they did was to complain. They were not thankful; they were not grateful; they did not see the blessing that they had.
This is why the God turned to the Gentiles to stir them up to jealousy.
Some think that God’s perfect vineyard needs no work; that the fruit grows on it, on its own. We were each given a measure of faith and a blessing. We were given a talent, and what is expected of us is to multiply the talent. Each fruit grows on its own. When God created the universe and the earth in the beginning, He did not put six billion people there at once. It started with two people. It did not have nations with their own agriculture. It started with a small patch called Eden. It doesn’t mean that it was imperfect. It was perfect because it was full of opportunities and the participation in the work of God.
A perfect vineyard is a place where one doesn’t need to work; thus, when faced with challenges, in the vineyard where there are blessings of life forever, they complain and walk away not understanding the blessing in front them. Challenges and less than ideal situations are the soil that God wants us to cultivate. If we walk away from them, we forfeit the opportunity to bear fruit.
The king is taken from people who does not bear fruit because the kingdom continues to grow. There is no end to the increase of the kingdom. If you are not going to produce, God will make a way to stir us up to jealousy so that we will come back because there is room in the vineyard for all of us. Creation was very good and yet needed to be worked because this is God’s design.
God could have taken care of His sheep and could have tended His lambs, but He asked Peter to do it so that he could participate and bear fruit. Why would God subject Himself to stress by betting on free-willed man to deliver and ask, “How long will I have to be with you? How long will I have you as workers in My vineyard?” This is for us and for our salvation. Our participation is our salvation that He already gave us to begin with.
Before man worked, there was already fruit and he needs only to maintain it. In Genesis 2:5, it says, “Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.” The word cultivate means to serve. The participation in God’s kingdom is ecological work. God does His part; man has his part as well.
Ezekiel 36:33-36 says, “33 ‘Thus says the Lord God, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. 34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. 35 They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken and will do it.” Desolation is a sign of death. Unfruitfulness is a sign of death. Fruitfulness is a sign of abundant life. God promises to be with us to make this happen. He has provided everything. We need to do is to be used by Him for the end purpose of spreading His kingdom. To those who will see it will desire to participate in the fruitfulness of the vineyard – whether we come from the vineyard or it is the first time to see it. God said, “All the nations around will see that I the Lord have done it and have made the desolation a garden; the dry places a well.”
The chosen people of God had always one mission: to let their light shine to give glory to God while bearing good works. In Isaiah 2, it says, “Then the nations will seek and ask, ‘Teach us your ways. We want that. Our ways won’t work. We couldn’t make our vineyard grow like you do yours. Teach us your ways…and the increase of the government of God will continue and that will be fulfilled.’” God has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing from the heavenly places. He gave His life, what more could He do?
I will end with 2 Peter 1:2-8, “2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We have to be increasing, producing, bearing fruit and being fruitful. See that God has blessed us. Set aside our complaints. Our God is a giving God. What else will we look for? Fruitfulness is abundant life. This is the will of God for us and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.