Lectionary Reflection. Matthew 21: 33-46: Doing Must Bear Fruit

Continuing with the theme of works versus grace and the natural Christian tension between these two issues, we come to a hard parable.  Thus far, Jesus has brilliantly shown that grace comes first and without precondition, but the point of grace is so that we may work on behalf of God and the Kingdom.  Here he takes a much harder line, or so it appears.

Here he does not begin, “The Kingdom of God is like…”  He simply says, “Listen.”  And he tells them a parable.  Now like the good little Greco-Roman descendants we are, the temptation might be to allegorize the whole thing:  The vineyard is the world, we are the tenants, the servants are the prophets, the son is Jesus, the owner is God and blah, blah.  But then it would not be a parable, it would be an allegorical tale.

As a parable, Jesus is talking about one thing (that’s how parables work): the need to bear fruit or, as it were, to bear fruit for God.  The stone he alludes to is then not himself, but this “need to bear fruit.”  Let me try to explain it this way.

God chooses freely to call us into his Kingdom, but not so we can sit around on our duffs.  God calls us to participate in the work of the Kingdom.  This much should be evident from the last two posts.  Now he is adding that we should not just work any old “good works,” but what works we do must bear fruit.  The chief priests and Pharisees were full of good works, but works that glorified themselves.  Their works were barren.  Our fruit is to be offered to God in due season.  That is why we are called and set in the land.

By their fruits you shall know them, we are told.  Not by their works, per se.  And what are those fruits?  Well, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentle-kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  These certainly lead in the right direction.

You might say in bringing up the stone of “the need to bear fruit,” the stone that was clearly rejected by the chief priests and Pharisees, Jesus was referencing their hard hearts.  (They knew full well he was talking about them only still they did not see it or understand). 

Likewise, in our day, I have known many who laud and praise themselves for all the good they do.  I fearfully say that this “need to bear fruit” stone is likely to surprise many when they get to Heaven, and it may very well break some.

To bear the fruit, as in the fruit of the Spirit, is at the cornerstone of what God want to do in us, with us and through us in order to make us more like Jesus.  Surely God wants us to be more loving, peaceful, content, filled with joy, patient with him and with each other, full of goodness, gentleness, kindness, overflowing with faith yet humble before God and sufficiently in control of ourselves so sin cannot find a foothold. 

Wouldn’t it be great to be like that?  Would you like to be loving and happy and filled to overflowing with all good things every day? And of course we don’t have to think twice about offering all this back to God when the harvest comes.  All of this is already his and his gift to us. He is sharing it with us.  It is his gift to us in the Holy Spirit.  It is full circle, when working for the Kingdom brings us right back to grace for us.  It is gifts for us.

I hope I have explained this well.  Certainly the chief priests and Pharisees did not get it.

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