Taking care of the Lord's Vineyard

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Taking care of the Lord’s Vineyard
13th Sunday after Pentecost
6 September, 2009
1 Corinthians 16:13-24 ; Matthew 21:33-42

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When the Lord is giving this parable about the vinedressers, He is speaking to you and to me, also. When we are hearing words such as these, we have to ask ourselves : “How am I fulfilling my responsibilities in Christ’s vineyard ?” “How am I living up to Christ’s call to me according to the gifts that He gave to me to work in this vineyard ?”

In this parable today, we see that the vinedressers are deciding to take over everything, themselves. The result of their attempt to take over everything was the death of many people, and, and ultimately their own expulsion. We have to be asking ourselves what sort of stewards we are of the gifts that God has given us to work in His Kingdom, because in fact, we can behave just as those vinedressers. The Lord has given us the responsibility to tend the vines. What are these vines ? The vines are not only the Lord’s property, but they are also His living, human beings, together with all the rest of creation.

What are vinedressers supposed to be doing ? Their responsibility is to be trimming the vines and looking after the vines in order to enable them to produce the greatest amount possible of the best quality of grapes. In that way, the best eating grapes are produced as well as the best wine possible. How we behave in our lives can sometimes actually be like the vinedressers of the vineyard that we are hearing about today because they took over without asking anything of the master (who owned everything, and on whom their livelihood depended). They decided that they knew best, and that they would take over everything. In our own stewardship of the gifts that the Lord has given to us, we all have to be asking ourselves (starting with the bishops) : “How am I looking after the Lord’s vineyard ?” “Am I doing it in harmony with His will or am I usurping it, thinking that I can do better ?” “Am I doing it my way instead of doing it the Lord’s way ?” If I am doing it my way, and trying to convince the Lord to let me do it my way, then there might be still some redeeming feature there (because I am asking the Lord to bless the doing of it my way).

However, my way is usually the wrong way because I do not know enough about everything to be able to make fully informed and correct decisions about things. I need to have my heart in communion with the Lord, in harmony with the Lord, to be able to make the right decision about things, and to determine what is the right direction of things. Am I being a good steward of the responsibilities that the Lord has placed on me in the context of these particular gifts that He has given me ? I can only even partially know and understand this when I am first asking the Lord to show me. It is He, the Lord of the vineyard and the Lord of my life, who will show me whether I am on the right track or whether I need to straighten myself out. Of course, I cannot actually straighten myself out without asking Him to help me to straighten out.

It is extremely important for us to be constantly mindful of this vineyard (the Church, and our life in the Church). The whole Church and even our lives are not our own property. They are the Lord’s gifts to us, and we are the stewards of everything. Are we stewards that are going to try to take over as the stewards of this vineyard did today ? If we try to take over for ourselves, and deceive ourselves that we know better than the Lord what is supposed to be done in our lives, then the same thing will happen to us as happened to those vinedressers. In other words, the Lord will simply remove us and replace us with faithful vinedressers. We, here, have been given a responsibility towards the vine which is the life in the Church, the lives of the believers in the Church, and the lives of people who are coming into the Church. Many of us have not been born in the Church, but have been grafted into the Church in the course of our lives. How are we nurturing the vine as vinedressers ? How are we behaving according to the responsibilities that the Lord has given us ? He calls us to tend His vine. He calls us to nurture the vine – not only the bishops, the priests, and the deacons – but He has called us all to do this.

How are we taking care of these vines ? How are we bringing the best fruit from these vines ? The Lord of the vineyard is going to be asking us about how we are serving Him and about how we are bringing life as we care for the vineyard. What is to be understood is that the vines are everyone’s lives. (However, we have to remember also that our Lord, Himself, said : “‘I am the Vine, you are the branches’” (John 15:5). We are branches of the one Vine. The Lord in His love for us wants us to bear much fruit (see John 15:8). Not only are we doing what is necessary to enable the vine to bear the best and the most fruit possible, but we, ourselves, being part of that same vine, are also getting trimmed and cleaned up.

It is crucial for us to remember that we are not in control of everything, ourselves. Everything about our lives is the result of God’s gift to us. We are stewards of that gift. Everything in our lives belongs first to the Lord. How do we, then, in our lives allow the Lord to bring the best and the most fruit from us all ? How do we help each other to bring forth this fruit for the Lord’s glory ? This is an essential question for us all to be asking all the time. How am I co-operating with the Lord so that not only in my own life, but in the lives of those around me, and those who depend on me, we will be able to bear the best and the most fruit for the Lord for His glory ?

The most important thing for us to be conscious of in our lives is the danger of falling into the trap that those vinedressers in the parable today deliberately jumped into – to usurp from the Lord what is rightfully His. It is necessary therefore for us Orthodox Christians to remember that no matter what we are doing in our lives, no matter what our gifts are, no matter what our abilities are, everything in our lives comes from the Lord. It is His gift, and it is His working in us that enables us to bear fruit, and to live truly productive lives. However, we must always be giving the glory to the Lord, not to ourselves.

As we are beginning this new ecclesiastical year (according to the sanctoral commemoration), let us ask the Lord to help us to be faithful and good stewards of what He has given us to care for, whatever that is, and however much or little that may be. Let us ask Him to help us to be the best stewards possible of what He has given to us. Let us ask Him to guard our hearts from falling into the temptation to usurp what is His and take it over, and attribute it to ourselves. Instead, in everything, let us give glory to Him. Let us give thanks to Him for everything. Giving glory to God and giving thanks to God must be the constant characteristic of all Christians. We were created to be like this. If we are falling down in our giving thanks to God for everything and glorifying Him for everything, we can already smell in our hearts the stink of those vinedressers who were trying to take over the vineyard for themselves. It is only when we are caring about the Master, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and when we are doing everything for His glory in the context of His will, and offering everything to Him, that everything will be well, grow well, and have life.

Since we have been given the responsibilities of our life in Christ and the lives of those around us, and the responsibility of testifying for Christ in our lives, let us ask the Lord to give us the ability to remember to whom the vines belong. Let us ask the Lord to give us the heart and the love to care for the vines so that they will bear the most fruit. Let us ask the Lord to renew our hearts, also, so that, usurping nothing for ourselves, our hearts may give glory to the Lord of the vineyard in everything. Let us give glory and thanksgiving for everything to the Lord only. Our Lord says : “‘I am the Vine, you are the branches’” (John 15:5). Let us ask our Saviour, who is the Vine, to enable us, the branches, to bear good fruit to His glory. Let us remember that it is only for Him that we live, and in Him that we can live. Let us give glory to the Lord of the vineyard, our heavenly Father, who loves us, cares for us, nurtures us, feeds us, and prunes us so that we will be able to bear fruit many times over, to the glory of the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.