September 3, 2017

Gospel Commentary for the Thirteenth Sunday of Matthew (St. Theophylact of Ochrid)

Thirteenth Sunday of Matthew
Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers

Matthew 21:33-42

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Matthew

By Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

33. "Hear another parable: There was a certain man, a householder, who planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

Yet another parable He brings to them, showing that though they were deemed worthy to receive an immeasurable degree of care for their condition, they did not get better. The man, a householder is the Lord Who in His love for man calls Himself a man. The vineyard is the Jewish people, planted by God in the land of promise. For He says, "Bring them in and plant them in Thy holy mountain" [Ex. 15:17]. The hedge is the law which prevented them from mixing with the Gentiles; or, it is the holy angels who guarded Israel. The wine-press is the altar; the tower, the temple. The husbandmen are the teachers of the people, the Pharisees and the scribes. The householder, God, went into a far country when He no longer spoke to them in a pillar of cloud. Or, the departure of God into a far country is His long-suffering; for when He is long-suffering and not in hot pursuit of wrongdoers, demanding an account, He appears to be asleep or absent on a far journey.

34-39. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, 'They will reverence my son.' But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize his inheritance.' And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.

The time of the fruit drew near during the years of the prophets. For the servants who were sent are the prophets who were abused in various ways by the husbandmen, that is, the false prophets and false teachers of those times. One they beat, as they did to Micah when Sedek struck him on the jaw [III Kings (I Kings) 22:24]; another they killed, as they did to Zechariah [the father of John the Forerunner] between the temple and the altar; another they stoned, as they did Zechariah, the son of Jodae the high priest [II Chron. 24:21]. Later the Son of God was sent and He appeared in the flesh. He said, "They will reverence My Son," not unaware that they would kill Him, but signifying what ought to be. For, He says, they ought to honor the dignity of the Son even if they had killed the servants. But the husbandmen saw Him and said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill Him." The Jews, too, said, "This is the Christ," and they crucified Him. They cast Him out of the vineyard, for the Lord was slain outside of the city. But since we would also say that the vineyard is the people, Christ was slain by the Pharisees, the evil husbandmen, outside the vineyard, that is, outside and apart from the will of the guileless people.

40-41. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?" They say unto Him, "He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons."

"When He cometh." When? At the second coming? It seems to have this meaning, but a better meaning is this: the lord of the vineyard is God the Father Who sent His Son Who was slain by them. When He comes, that is, when He looks down on the lawlessness which the Jews committed, then He will miserably destroy them by sending the Roman army. And His vineyard, that is, His people, He will give to other husbandmen, that is, to apostles and teachers. Understand the vineyard to mean also the Divine Scriptures, in which the hedge is the letter, the wine-press that is dug is the depth of the Spirit, and the tower is theology, lofty and exalted. These Scriptures, then, were first possessed by bad husbandmen, the Pharisees; but God has let them out to us who cultivate them well. But they slew the Lord outside the vineyard, that is, outside those things of which Scripture spoke.

42-44. Jesus saith unto them, "Did ye never read in the Scriptures, 'The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?' Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: and on whomsoever it shall fall, it will crush him to powder to be scattered."

The stone means Christ Himself; the builders are the teachers of the Jews who rejected Him as if He were useless, saying, "Thou art a Samaritan and hast a demon." But when He rose from the dead, He was set in place as the head of the corner, that is, He became the head of the Church, joining Jews and Gentiles in one faith. For as the stone which forms the corner of a building makes continuous the walls leading to and from it, so Christ has bound all together in one faith. This corner is marvelous, and is the Lord's doing. [See Ps.117:22-23] For the Church which connects us and makes us one in faith is the Lord's doing, and is worthy of all wonder, so well is it built. And in another sense is it marvelous, because the Word of Christ has been confirmed and substantiated by marvels, that is, miracles, so that the composition of the Church is marvelous. The kingdom of God, that is, closeness with God, has been taken from the Jews and given to those who believed. Those who stumble against the Rock of Christ and take offence at Him will not only be crushed at the second coming, but already here in this life they have been scattered like powder by Christ. They have been scattered over all the earth, as we now see the pitiable Jews to be. Understand that he who is crushed to powder to be scattered is dispersed abroad and scattered in diaspora.