My dad and I took a drive one late summer day, in Oregon. We stumbled upon a small vineyard & winery where we enjoyed a quiet, relaxing lunch and a glass of wine. From where we sat outdoors, we could see the fields of vines with beautiful grapes – the likes of which must have been used to create the glass of Riesling you see in the photograph. It was a family-owned vineyard, and I imagine that the children of this vineyard-owner, like the sons in Jesus’ parable, had been asked a time or two to “go and work in the vineyard today.” I, for one, am GLAD that there were workers in this vineyard because I thoroughly enjoyed sampling the fruits of their labor!
In Matthew chapter 21, Jesus shares his vineyard parable with a group of his critics – church leaders who questioned Jesus’ teachings and miracles because his authority to do such things had not come from THEM.
They were, after all, the church’s upper management.
They were afraid of and threatened by this Rabbi who did not seek their approval before ministering to the crowds.
Jesus introduces his critics to two sons by way of their response to an invitation by their father to “go and work in the vineyard today.”
The first son says NO, but later changes his mind and decides to GO.
The second son says YES, but he does not follow through – his words were better than his actions and he fails to GO.
Now, I am NOT a morning person. My family will attest to this sad fact if you ask them. If I were the first son, I might have said NO because it’s EARLY and I’m TIRED and until the second cup of coffee kicks in, I’m probably USELESS to you, anyways. There are likely many reasons for the first son’s NO answer and the second son’s failure to GO, but this text provides us with several possibilities as to why we, as God’s own children, don’t GO when we hear our Father’s call.
Paul (Philippians 2:4) calls it “looking to your own interests,” but we might call it laziness or seeking our own comfort over the call of our Father. I suppose my own excuse – I’m not a morning person – fits here. As long as we look to our own interests, we limit our usefulness in the work of the vineyard.
Selfish ambition keeps many sons and daughters from participating in the work of their fathers. It comes as no surprise (does it?) that we can be too busy in our own fields to take the time to work in His, implying that MY work is more IMPORTANT than His.
Sometimes we don’t GO when God calls because we choose, like the Chief Priests and elders did, to play it “safe”. It seems SAFE to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. It seems SAFE to sit on the fence, remaining non-committal and sticking with answers like, “I don’t know.”
It seems safe to stay put rather than to GO.
Less risk. Less discomfort. Less work.
Something happened, though, in the first son, causing Jesus to say that this one did the will of his father. His first response was NO, but then… he changed his mind.
Even after seeing firsthand the changed lives of the prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners who came to believe, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not change their minds.
There are many people today who have not changed their minds about Jesus. There are many who choose not to believe.
Henry Blackaby, in his classic book “Experiencing God,” says that “when a church allows God’s presence and activity to be expressed through them, a watching world will be drawn to Him.”
The church, however, often comes to the world in the way of “humanity’s best effort” rather than in the way of the Kingdom. Just THINK of all the modern-day tax collectors and prostitutes who, upon seeing the righteousness of God at WORK through us, might change their minds and believe!
THIS is the vineyard work we’re called to! It’s KINGDOM work! GOD’S OWN WORK! When we make it anything less than this, we make it “humanity’s best effort.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve SEEN this best effort.
I’m not impressed.
Jesus says that the sinners of his day saw the righteousness of God at work and they believed. My formerly Buddhist friend saw her mother lying in a hospital bed and suddenly realized that she was praying to God – not Buddha – for her mother’s life. She saw God at work, changed her mind and believed.
My cancer-ridden friend, while on the way to the hospital for body-altering surgery to save her life, realized that God wasn’t WITH her. He was IN her. In her heart. She saw Him at work, changed her mind and believed.
It happens everyday – God is working in His vineyard all around us, and those who see Him are changed.
I wonder if you’ve ever enjoyed a meal as much as the one I shared with my father in an Oregon vineyard? We were surrounded by such beauty, such potential, such peace. The food was really good. The company – priceless. And the wine… mmmm… a hint of apple, crisp & chilled, not too sweet – the perfect finish.
We, my sisters, are not only workers in God’s vineyard… we ARE the vineyard! We are the fruit of His labor of love, tended to by the hands and the hearts of those who say YES to His invitation to GO!
The fruit of a vineyard is not meat. It isn’t raw materials that will clothe and shelter and physically sustain life.
The fruit of a vineyard is WINE – a beverage meant to be enjoyed, sipped, savored, relished, shared.
A beverage to “top off” everything that is ALREADY GOOD!
MAY YOU realize that you are a child of the Lord of the vineyard!
Watch for evidence of His ongoing work and be willing to change your mind. Open yourself up to the risky vineyard work – work that requires you to be about the interests of others. Set aside your self-serving ambition, your need for comfort and your tendency to play it safe.