For Us

Text: Matthew 21:33-46
Date: Pentecost XVII Proper 22 + 10/5/14

It’s October. We are nearing a very interesting time of the liturgical year, namely, the end. In this first year of the three-year lectionary St. Matthew has been guiding us telling us what we need to know about our Savior, Jesus Christ. He began as we would expect, listing Jesus’ genealogy in a way that suggests He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises of salvation from Abraham to Mary and Joseph of Bethlehem. In Advent we hear of the purpose of His coming and then celebrate the miraculous mystery of the incarnation of the Second Person of God the Holy Trinity in the Christ Mass. Our chapter by chapter walk with Matthew begins in the green Sundays of Epiphany where we review the beginning of His earthly ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, Matthew chapters 3, 4, and 5.

With but that short introduction our walk is then “interrupted,” if you will, with the emphasis on “the end of the story.” We jump through to the end of Matthew’s Gospel hearing of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. That’s where our faith hangs to this day, the end which is not the end but only the beginning, the day full of grace, the time of repentance and faith and salvation and hope. After basking in the Easter Gospel for fifty days we are dropped off of the Lord’s Half of the year on the Day of Pentecost.

Then, almost as if we were waking up from a dream, suddenly we are thrown back almost to where we left off on the road of Matthew’s Gospel. Through this long, green season we march through the remaining chapters, Matthew 10, then 11, then 13, then 14, then 15 and 16, 18, 20 and now chapter 21. It’s October. And we are nearing a very interesting time: the end. In today’s Gospel it is Holy Week once again. But this time we will not repeat Good Friday and Easter. Rather we hear in greater detail the teaching of our Lord concerning The Very Last Day, the day of judgment, the day when, as we confess, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” It’s October. And just as the darkness deepens here in the Northern Hemisphere so we consider in some detail the ominous prospect not only of our Lord’s crucifixion but of the spiritual warfare we encounter and must endure bearing our own crosses today.

We have been hearing the opposition to Jesus building in these last days—both these last days of Matthew’s account, but also these last days in which we live. The feast days of the Reformation and All Saints lie ahead and describe our warfare with the devil and the glorious prospect of paradise. Finally, we hear Jesus speaking of the day of judgment, the dies irae, dies illa, the day of wrath and doom impending, the judgment when those who were disobedient will be condemned to the eternal punishment of hell and those with faith in Christ will be delivered from sin in the blessed hope of the resurrection of their bodies and the life everlasting.

The ancient Requiem Mass describes the portentous last day, saying:

Day of wrath and doom impending…
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth….
Lo! the book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded:
Thence shall judgment be awarded….
Remember, kind Jesus, my salvation
Caused thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation!
Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Pie Jesu Domine, Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant thine eternal rest. Amen

It’s still Tuesday of Holy Week. The words of Jesus’ parables get sharper as the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that He was speaking about them. “And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.” But their day awaits shortly.

They perceived correctly. They are the tenants of God’s vineyard who were to give the owner, the Lord of the vineyard, His fruits. What fruits? Nothing else than true repentance and the obedience of faith and love.

They were going to be rejected and the vineyard given to other tenants, even this time with Gentiles among them. Now we are to manage God’s vineyard producing the fruits of His grace both in ourselves and in others planted or grafted in. The vineyard is the whole world. “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Is 5:7). The vineyard is the Church. The kingdom of God is His reign and rule through the Word and Sacraments of His Son.

All people that on earth do dwell are created by God to live in His image. To be alive is to participate with our Creator in the care of His good creation. Yet, ever since Adam and Eve, all people have also been made captives of sin and the archenemy, Satan. It is because we are sinners that we have yielded wild grapes, that is, “the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph 5:11). We have turned God’s creation once entrusted to us now only to serve us.

So God laments through His servants the prophets. “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” (Is 5:4). “Finally He sent His Son” who prayed with great distress, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Mt 23:37-39) Well, now that day has come. It has come and gone and all that awaits is the desolation of Calvary. Or so it seemed.

Our Lord continues to try to gather us. He calls, gathers and enlightens us by speaking with words we can understand. There have been times when we were not willing, not willing to listen or to be gathered to God. Yet, still He invites and calls. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps 95:7b-8a). And it is because that call and invitation is now complete, empowered by the victory of the Holy Cross and the brightness of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, that just our hearing of it is the moment of true repentance and faith created in us by those very words. He says, “This is my body” and “this is my blood” and in the eating and drinking now He dwells in us and we in Him.

It is in this power that we can continue to labor confidently in God’s vineyard, bearing our crosses with the strength of faith and the certain prospect of the eternal life that lies ahead.

It is October. There will be an end.

At last the march shall end;
The wearied ones shall rest;
The pilgrims find their home at last,
Jerusalem the blest.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!
(LSB 813:6)