Monday, September 3, 2012

The Parable of the Vineyard and the Tenants

On the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the Church's lectionary appoints the reading of parable of the vineyard and the tenants from the Gospel according to St. Matthew 22:33-42.  It is especially fitting that this Gospel be read at this time of year.  We have just begun a new year and our Lord's Crucifixion and Triumph over death is manifest everywhere in our hymnography as the Exaltation of the Cross is not even two weeks away. 

There are many interesting things to speak about this parable and my priest did that on Sunday, but one thing that I thought he could have really hit home on relates to Orthodox soteriology and how it fundamentally contrasts with the soteriology defended by the Roman Catholics and Protestants.  I need not give a full synopsis of the parable, but one notices that the Master of the vineyard repeatedly sends his servants to the tenants to collect what he is owed. Each time the tenants prevent the servants from fulfilling their duty either by beating them, stoning them, or killing them. 

It's interesting to note that the Master, after the first incident, did not just immediately go there himself and deal with the tenants, but kept giving them chance after chance to repent and do what was required.  As the Master did, so our Lord God has continually given us chance upon chance to repent and come to realization of our errors.   In Catholic and Protestant soteriology, God's honor was so hurt and violated with the onset of Adam's sin that He, essentially, turned away from man.  He could not look at man in the face again because divine justice dictates that His honor be satisfied first.  And His honor was satisfied by having man wail on His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  And since that event, God can now look us in the eye once more.

This is known as Penal Satisfaction and has been promulgated by such scholastic thinkers as Anselm and refined by people like Bernard of Clairvaux and Martin Luther.  It is such a disgusting system of thinking about God.  And it is so fraught with legal and juridical terminology that one can wonder if God has any compassion at all!

But contrast this with the Orthodox view.  In our view, God has never "turned his back on us," sinners though we be.  We have turned our back on Him.  And every time we do turn our back on Him, He comes to meet us face to face.  He has done this since the first sin in the garden.  That is a major difference between the Orthodox understanding of God and the Protestant/Catholic view.  As a result of this, the Orthodox do not hold to the notion that God's sense of divine justice warranted that His own Son be horribly beaten and mercilessly put to death in order to satisfy that wrong done to the Godhead.

Such is the same with the Master of the Vineyard. He did not just turn his back on the tenants waiting for his honour to be satisfied somehow.  He kept sending servants as the Lord sent Prophets.  Then, he even sent his own son as the Lord sent His Christ.  The sending of the Prophets and the Theanthropos, Christ, was done with our Lord trying to look us in the eye, not from us trying to look to Him which couldn't be done because His back was turned.

In this new year, we are given even more chances to do the right thing, to give what is the Lord's.  We are still in need of our Lord's Cross and Resurrection, for without it, there is no hope in our salvation.  But if there was no room for us to do anything, then why would God send Prophets or His son?  Evil people we may be, but we are not automatons.  Evil people still have a free will, wounded as it is.  Automatons do not.

On a side note, ccording to sacred tradition, this particular parable was delivered on Holy Tuesday.  It is noteworthy that at the end of the parable, St. Matthew says that the Pharisees and the High Priests were afraid to arrest Him, because, in the eye's of the crowd, Jesus was a prophet and they did not want to rouse the crowds against them.  What a difference 24 hours make!

No comments:

Post a Comment