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HOMILY ON THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN
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HOMILY ON THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN OR THE PRACTISE OF THE REMEMBRANCE OF GOD (Matthew 21: 33-44)

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Brothers and Sisters, what is it that inspires people to do horrible and wicked things? The vinedressers, or "husbandmen" as they are called in the King James Bible, had everything they could ever want. They had a beautiful place to live, they had all the food they could eat, a job that kept them busy but didn't over-burden them. They also had a kindly boss. He gave them the land to cultivate, only asking for a portion of the grapes, raisins, and wine that would result from their efforts. That's all. But when the boss sent messengers to the vineyard to receive his portion, what happened? The vinedressers killed them. They killed the first group of messengers, and they killed the second group of messengers, and finally they killed the son and heir. Now we haven't forgotten the context of this parable. Jesus is teaching in the temple. The religious leaders are furious with Jesus and question his authority. We know that the parable is addressed to them, that the vineyard, the hedge, the winepress, the tower all refer to all the good things that God had given to His people. The land, the vineyard, is the Promised Land, the hedge is the Law of Moses, the winepress is the altar of sacrifice, and the tower is the temple. We remember these things, don't we? And the vinedressers represent the religious leaders, the priests, etc. who were responsible for caring for it all. But time after time they abandoned God, worshipped idols, defrauded the poor and the widow, killed the prophets, and eventually would cause the death of their own Messiah. This is the primary teaching of the parable. It is a rebuke that is designed to get those religious leaders to wake up and see what they were doing, and see what they were thinking. In other words, Jesus sought to shake them up so that they would repent. But it was not to be so.

As a secondary meaning, many have seen a message about tithing. Right? God has given us everything, but He expects us to give our portion, our "tithe" back to Him. He has given us the Church, which is the vineyard. He has given us the Good News of the Gospel, which is the hedge. He so loved the world (which means, in Greek, the "people") that He gave His only-begotten Son to die on the Cross that we might have eternal life, which is the wine-press. And what do you think the tower is? In the Song of Songs in the Bible we hear of a person who "is like the tower of David, built for an armory, on which there hang a thousand shields, all shields of mighty men." Who might this person be, who is provided to the Church for her defense? What do we sing in the Church? "Thou art a gold-entwined tower." The Mother of God, the Most Holy Virgin is the Tower whom our Lord and Master has placed to watch over and protect the Church. So the Lord has given us everything for our salvation and eternal life. He expects us to render Him His portion, as is due. That is the connection with tithing.

But another meaning to the parable lies in what I asked at the beginning: "What is it that inspires people to do horrible and wicked things?" In our lives there can be many things that cause us to do sinful or evil things, but today's parable wants to think about one particular thing. And what is it? The parable makes a point to say that the Master "went into a far country." This means that he, the Master, was not physically present there with them, he was far away. Remember what the Lord said to Thomas, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe." The situation here at the vineyard was something far worse than "when the cat's away the mice will play." This is "while the Master is away we will forget about Him altogether."

St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain once said that "When a man is too happy in this world, he forgets God and forgets death.” Too much attention to the fallen world, it's pleasures, it's attractions, it's comforts, and our mind, and our focus easily disconnect from God. To the holy fathers, the forgetfulness of God is one of the worst possible sins that human beings can commit. To the late Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel laureate, Orthodox Christian author, and Russian dissident, the cause for Russia's disasters in the last century, and the disasters that loom for the West in this century are due primarily to one thing: "Men have forgotten God" (See A. Solzhenitsyn, “Godlessness: the First Step to the Gulag”). If the vinedressers had reminded themselves daily of the care and love that the Master had bestowed upon them, they would have reciprocated that love and care. But they forgot him, as we often do God. Someone once said "Most Christians live their lives and behave themselves as if God didn't exist at all." This is the deep meaning of the parable for us today. The Lord wanted to shake up the religious leaders in the temple for their repentance. He wants the parable to do the same for us! Remembering God is vital for our salvation. St. Augustine, in his work "On the Trinity," wrote about the remembrance of God. He says that before we can know and love God at all, we must first remember Him. Another holy father, St Peter of Damascus, says that we must:

"Be mindful of God at all times, in all places, and in every circumstance. For no matter what you do, you should keep in mind the Creator of all things. When you see the light, do not forget Him who gave it to you; when you see the sky, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, marvel at these things and glorify their Creator; when you put on your clothing, acknowledge whose gift it is and praise Him who in His providence has given you life. In short, if everything you do becomes for you an occasion for glorifying God, you will be praying unceasingly. And in this way your soul will always rejoice, as St. Paul commends (cf. I Thess. 5:16).”(+ St. Peter of Damascus, “Book I: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge,” The Philokalia: The Complete Text, Vol. 3)

And St Herman of Alaska famously said: “And I, a sinner, have been trying to love God for more than forty years, and cannot say that I perfectly love Him. If we love someone we always remember them and try to please them; day and night our heart is occupied with this. Is that how you...love God? Do you often turn to Him, do you always remember Him, do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments? For our good, for our happiness at least let us make a vow that from this day, from this hour, from this minute we shall strive to love God above all else and to fulfill His holy will.'”

Let's do our best, dear ones, to struggle against the distractions of this world, the bright, colorful, flashing lights of the fishing lures of Satan, and, instead, wrestle our minds back to the remembrance of God. It isn't easy, and it must be aided by God's grace and much prayer, but we CAN do it, if we choose to.

Amen.


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