I love the old horror movies in black and white. The building of suspense where you’re screaming at the screen “Run” or “Don’t go in there!” Vincent Price was my favorite, and my most favorite horror movie of his is “The Oblong Box” by Edgar Allen Poe.
What was brilliant about those old movies was their ability to build tension and excitement before the big scare! Kinda like riding a roller coaster at the amusement park.
There are other scary things that don’t thrill; they just terrify. And this is what I want to talk about today on this Holy Monday.
Our Gospel Lesson comes to us from Matthew 21:18-43, and here our Lord is preparing His disciples for the end of His ministry among them before His Crucifixion. And, as usual, He is having to deal with the “religious” crowd about just who does “He think He is” saying the things He is saying and doing the things He is doing. His words and His actions are really upsetting the “religious” crowd and they are, frankly, sick of this “preacher” from Galilee.
Look here at this section of our passage:
“Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “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.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”
Looking these religious leaders straight in the eye, He asks them “What will the landowner do to these wicked tenants?” And they all responded “He will put those wretches to a miserable death!” Little did these religious people realize that they had just judged themselves!
You see, the Lord tells these stories to reach those who have hearts that can grasp what He’s trying to say AND to reveal the hearts of the others who simply can’t see past their own self righteousness. The Lord’s clear teaching is that these Jewish people had had centuries of spiritual advantages and instruction and liturgy and wisdom and prophets and preachers and on and on and on. And STILL they miss the Messiah.
Here’s where it gets absolutely terrifying. Look at His response to their own words: “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” Matthew 21:43
“The Kingdom of God will BE TAKEN AWAY from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” (Emphasis mine) And this did happen, dear ones. The Message of Christ was offered to the Kinsmen of Jesus and they rejected it (not all), and then the Message of Jesus was offered to another nation who took it and changed the world! But let me ask you, what do you believe will happen to the Message of Jesus if that nation comes to a place where they aren’t producing fruit anymore? Do you think that if the Lord didn’t stop the Kingdom from being taken from His Own Kinsmen, He will stop another unfaithful nation from losing the very same Message? And then the Message of Jesus will then go looking for another nation still who WILL embrace it, be faithful to it, and live this life so as to “produce the fruits of it!”
Today, as we journey with the Lord to His life-giving and voluntary death; as we hear His clear teachings and frank sermons on true faith and fruitful spiritual lives; let us face squarely the hard words of the Lord and refuse to make the same mistakes of generations before us. Let us be a “nation” that produces fruit for the Vineyard Owner and give Him the Harvest He rightly expects from those who claim with their mouths to love Him and His Church. To do less is to risk watching our people have this kingdom “taken” and given to those who will appreciate it and cherish it as more than mere decoration! Live the faith or lose it. This is the scary declaration of the Lord to us on this Holy Monday. This is the heart of being Orthodox on Purpose! He who has ears to hear, let him hear!