On this Holy Monday:
Let us pray to the Lord,
O you who observe all things with your eye that never sleeps, who afford us such saving lessons in your desire to grant mercy to all who seek it: We give you thanks for this evening that brings us before you once more. Now that we have completed the Lenten season, enable us to enter into the week of the Savior’s passion with renewed earnestness and purpose. Drive far from us all sluggishness and dullness of mind and heart, and help us to break out of the prison of our mediocrity. As we ponder the story of Joseph, who, without knowing it, prefigured your Christ, enable us to imitate his wisdom and courage, that we, too, may be like your Son. And, lest we become sterile like the fig tree, bring our feeble efforts to fruition, that we may be worthy of the coming resurrection.
By the grace and mercy and love for us of your only Son, with whom you are blest, together with your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit: now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
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 has 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 these “religious” folks and they are, frankly, sick of this “preacher” from Galilee.
In dealing with them the Lord tells several stories; one is about two brothers and a dad. The Dad asks one brother to work in the field that day and the boy refuses, but later he repents and goes to the field to work for his Dad. The Dad asks the other son to go and work in the field and that son says “Sure dad, I’ll go.” But that son doesn’t do what he said he’d do. So the Lord asks these religious people “which son obeyed his Father?” Of course, they answer the first son who repented and obeyed his dad’s request even though he initially refused.
The Lord tells another story as well. And this one is about a landowner who plants a vineyard, digs a wine press, and then lets out the vineyard to tenants to work the land and produce the wine. When it comes harvesting time, the owner sends servants and even His Son, but the evil tenants beat the servants and kill the Son.
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 missed 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.”
“The Kingdom of God will BE TAKEN AWAY from you.” (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’s 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 are Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. See! The Bridegroom sets forth in the dead of night. And blessed is that servant whom he shall find on watch; unworthy the one he shall come upon lazing. See to it, soul, that sleep does not overtake you, lest you be given up to death and be shut out of the kingdom. Bestir yourself, then, and sing out: “Holy, holy, holy are You, our God; through the protection of the bodiless powers, save us.”