Amazing! It’s the only word that comes to mind as I ponder today’s Gospel Lesson.
The truth is my own words, my own actions, my own attitudes is all that will be necessary to display to reveal my true self, both my greatest deeds and my secret failures.
It’s why I always wonder at those who constantly insist “You can’t judge me.” Of course I can’t. Besides, I don’t need to judge you. We always judge ourselves. Our words, our actions, and our thoughts all contain all that is needed to “judge” rightly the true state of our souls. It is also why the Last Judgement and our constant Orthodox prayer ” For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord” all reveal that even the Lord will only reveal, not condemn us.
In today’s Gospel Lesson our Lord tells the story of the evil tenants and a vineyard Owner. It is time to harvest the crop of grapes owned by the vineyard Owner, and He sends His servants to gather His crops from those He has chosen to tend the vineyard. But the tenants kill and drive away the servants of the vineyard Owner. So the vineyard Owner sends more servants, and the tenants do the same to them. Finally, the vineyard Owner sends His Son, and the tenants disrespect the Son, kill Him, and throw Him outside the vineyard. Then the Lord asks those who hear the story “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” And the hearers judge themselves when they answer “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (see the entire reading in Matthew 21:33-42)
The Church calls us to read this Gospel today to remember the First Martyr of our Faith, St. Stephen. This is what those who were first called to “tend” the message of our loving God did to those who came to them to tell them about the Messiah Jesus. They stoned Stephen and a future Apostle of the Lord, St. Paul (then “Saul”) stood by to give assent and legal sanction to the death penalty for Stephen. Read the story of Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 6 and 7.
This story is meant as a warning to all of us that our own words will be used to prove who we really are. Our judgement is always self-inflicted and undeniable. And this revelation of our true selves extends to whole communities as well. The first community called and chosen to tend the Master’s Good News became so complacent in their calling they missed the Messiah, and God looked for others who would then take up the tending of the Message of the Good News and gave the “vineyard” to them. But what if they, too, become complacent in caring for the Message of the Lord?
Don’t be deceived, dear ones, the Master of the vineyard will accomplish His will. The only issue to be decided, and this will be decided by each of us, is will you be a faithful worker in His vineyard, or will you want to keep all the crop for yourself? How you “tend” your calling as a worker in His vineyard reveals who you are. Are you selfish with the Message? Do you think it belongs only to your “tribe?” Are you kind to the “servants” the vineyard Owner sends to work with you? or do you treat His servants dishonorably?
All the answers to these questions aren’t meant to shame you, but to invite you to do your own judging and not wait until the Master of the vineyard does it for you.
Today, as we live in the 12 Days of the Feast of the Nativity, let us judge ourselves so we will not be judged by Another at the last Day, and let us examine our own hearts to make sure we are faithful workers in the vineyard of the Lord. This is, after all, the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes!
The vineyard Owner has sent His Son into His vineyard! Christ is born!