By Their Fruits, You Will Know Them
A Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
(Jackson Vineyard: vineyard, grapes)
The Chief Priests and the Pharisees were very self-assured when it came to their salvation. They placed their faith in their identity as children of Abraham. The assumption was that their familial status was enough to save them. After all, God promised Abraham that,
I will maintain my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. (Genesis 17:7 NABRE)
Yet they stopped short in their reading. They missed the part that followed that says,
God said to Abraham: For your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages. (Genesis 17:9 NABRE)
We hear this again in the great covenant between the people of Israel and God at Mount Sinai. God tells the people of Israel that,
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the LORD, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, but are led astray and bow down to other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish … (Deuteronomy 30:16, 17-18a NABRE)
We Need to Read the Whole Covenant!
There is always an “if-then” clause. The clear implication of the covenant is that there are conditions that the people of Israel had to live up to in order to receive the blessing and enter the promised land. A blood line alone will not suffice. Yet, that is exactly what the Chief Priests and Pharisees were depending on.
Jesus proves repeatedly, that sin, despite any blood line, always enters in and shatters our relationship with God such that, without divine intervention, the promised land, heaven, is unattainable. Jesus tells the Priests and Pharisees that the vineyard belongs only to those that tend it for the master such that it bears fruit. Many may attempt to hijack the promise for their own purposes, but they will be found out, and thrown out. He tells them that the promised Land, the vineyard, belongs to those who “will produce its fruit." (Matthew 21:43 NABRE)
Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick. (Chesterton, 115)
Before we begin to believe ourselves superior to the Priests and Pharisees of Jesus’ time, it is good to remember that we are all seasick without God’s grace. That is why the Sacraments are so important. They give life-giving grace. We are only the people of God, the new tenants of the vineyard, through the gift of the sanctifying grace we receive in Baptism. St Paul writes that God,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5–7 NABRE)
Though heirs of the vineyard through Baptism, we too must do more. As the Lord tells the Chief Priests and Pharisees today, we too must also produce the fruit of the kingdom.
How do we “bear” fruit? Really LOVE!
Practically speaking, how do we produce the fruit of the Kingdom? Foremost, you follow the greatest commandments and love God,
“with all of your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 NABRE)
This is not easy, but such love characterizes the lives of the Saints. Such a life is possible with God’s help. Fruit flows from sacrificial love. This love is not some hokey, “good feelings,” “live and let live”, or “I am OK you are OK attitude.” The fruit comes from actively loving others, willing their good above your own, and especially leading others to the vineyard of heaven, through fearlessly announcing the Gospel. As self-declared Anti-theist, Penn Jillette stated, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” St John tells us,
“Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18 NABRE)
Through the grace of Baptism, we become heirs of the Kingdom,
“a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of [God’s] own, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet 2:9 NABRE)
We must announce the Lord! It is not optional. Strengthened by the grace of all the Sacraments, and especially through Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, let us remain steadfast in announcing the Kingdom. The Lord tells us, “By their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:17–20 NABRE) What an incalculable gift to be one of those persons to whom the Kingdom of God has been entrusted. Let’s get to work!
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Chesterton, Gilbert K. What’s Wrong with the World. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1910. Print.
Jackson, Paul. “Vineyard: Vineyard, Grapes.” Pinterest, 24 June 2013, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/253257179018384951/.
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
Taylor, Justin. “How Much Do You Have to Hate Somebody to Not Proselytize?” The Gospel Coalition, 18 Nov. 2009, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/how-much-do-you-have-to-hate-somebody-to-not-proselytize/.
Great focus. Fruits of the Holy Spirit are a good way for us to work backward and assess if there is a need to change our own disposition. It's something I consider if I'm feeling burnout. Somehow I've allowed myself to lose track of my identity in Christ, and my mission. As such, I need Spiritual Direction, Retreat (once a year) and Confession regularly in order to address such things.
In this life, we find ourselves in a constantly changing state, moment to moment. As a result we need endurance in the good and growth in the good. So constant maintenance, like a vineyard is required (i.e. pruning). Great reflection for Lent!
I had to quote that part you said, "Jesus proves repeatedly, that sin, despite any blood line, always enters in and shatters our relationship with God such that, without divine intervention, the promised land, heaven, is unattainable." That resonated with me. Great job!