Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven…
I have a bit of a confession to make, I am a terrible prayer. Is that how you say it? I do not think I pray very well, at least not compared to others. Perhaps you have had the experience where someone prays for you in a time of need or at an event like a meeting or study of some sort, and when they pray it is like the heavens are opened and the angels are singing. It is beautiful, poetic, and powerful, and you know that deep down they are well practiced in this craft. Then when I examine myself and my own practice, it is terrible. I mean, I pray a lot because I am a pastor and I am called to lead the congregation in the prayers of the Church, but if it were not for this vocation, I am not sure how much I would do it… which sort of scares me. Unfortunately, we often hear about prayer as this magical incantation of sorts where we can move God into action on our behalf, but we are called to pray, commanded even by our God. Yet, for many of us it remains a bit of a struggle.
But I have always found comfort in the Lord’s Prayer. It is the default prayer when we do not know what else to say. As it turns out, it tends to cover everything we really need to say. The explanation of this prayer in the Catechism is quite a blessing for those, like me, who struggle to pray in the first place. It speaks of something wonderful about our God, His holy name, His Kingdom, and His will. In it we encounter a repeated idea. It says, “God’s name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may be holy among us also,” or, “The Kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.” Likewise, “The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.” The confession here speaks about the inevitability of the name, Kingdom, and will of God. They are not dependent on our prayer. They will do precisely what God designs them to do. Our prayer is our cry to be included in these things, to be caught up in the work God is doing whether we pray or not. I do not know about you, but I find some comfort in knowing this.
Now bear with me, but I think this is the truth which underlies the “Parable of the Tenants,” from Matthew 22. Jesus tells a story about a man who had a vineyard. He took care of this vineyard. He did everything necessary so it would produce good wine. The vineyard is planted, a fence is erected to keep out wild animals, and any who might steal the fruit. He has a winepress dug right there on the property and even builds a tower so they might see danger coming from afar and better protect and care for the vineyard. With everything set, he leases it to tenants to work the vineyard, to oversee its operation. But then things go awry, horribly so. When the time comes to receive the fruit of the vineyard, the master of the house sends servants to collect and the tenant’s refuse. Not only do they refuse, but they beat the servants, throw stones at them, and even kill them. The master sends more, and they repeat the same action. They have no intention of handing over the fruit of the vineyard. The master then sends his son. “Surely they will respect my son,” he says. But they do not. They see this as an opportunity to kill the heir and with no heir they have an opportunity to make the vineyard theirs forever.
Then, predicting his own sacrifice, Jesus speaks about how the son is taken outside the walls of the vineyard and there he is put to death. Jesus then asks, “When, therefore, the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” And they say to Him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” In other words, he will get the fruit of his vineyard, if not from the original tenants than from others. And if there is any doubt about what he is getting at, Jesus looks right at the chief priests and Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day, and He says, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” It is all inevitable. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone because it is the work of God. The stone which was rejected will not be the cause of stumbling, it will either break you to pieces or it will crush you, there is no third option.
Let us be clear here, the issue in this parable is how the tenants refused to hear the Word. They refused to hand over the fruit the master called for. They would not listen to the servants sent and they certainly did not listen to the son. They believed the vineyard was theirs and they could do with it what they pleased. Perhaps they loved the vineyard, cherished its beauty, and had grown accustomed to thinking of how it would benefit them, provide for them, and nourish them, so they no longer cared for what the Lord of the vineyard wanted. It was theirs, and that was all there was to it. And this temptation continues today. It is the temptation to love the vineyard more than the Lord of the vineyard, to cling to the fruit as if it was our own, rather than listen to the Word of the Master.
This impulse begins through a true admiration and desire to be faithful. You come to church, to a particular place in a particular time and there you hear the Word and receive the gifts of faith. You love it. You cherish it. Over time, though, you associate the form of the thing, the external marks of it with the Good News that lies at its heart. The danger occurs when this Good News is allowed to slowly shift away from the center. I have had many conversations with people who wake up one day feeling like their particular church has left them, as if the center of the faith had been gutted and replaced with cultural markers of success and inclusion. What happens is we love the vineyard with its walls and its tower so much that we will no longer listen to the Word, we no longer are subordinate to the Lord of the vineyard.
But the Lord of the vineyard will get His fruit. One way or another, His name will be hallowed, His Kingdom will come, and His will will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. It is inevitable. I once read about how the great Reformation of the Church ought to be a reminder to us that God will get the fruit from His vineyard. He will strike even His own Church if it means the Gospel will once again go forth. The monolith that was Rome was shattered and the Church splintered into many smaller pieces. Everyone rightfully mourned its breaking, but what did God care? He was going to make sure the fruit of the vineyard, the gifts of the Kingdom were going to go forth.
Jesus says, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’” Marvelous indeed. Through the death of the Son outside the walls of Jerusalem, the vineyard with all its blessings, with all its fruit, with all its confidence and assurance has been given to others. It was given to those disciples and the ones who believed through their preaching on Pentecost. It was given to the countless churches established and nourished through the missionary journeys of Saint Paul. It spread across the Mediterranean and exploded in Africa. Slowly but surely the fruit of the vineyard poured out through Europe and across the sea to this land.
This is the Lord’s vineyard, this place, here and now. The inevitability of the Gospel comes to you now. It will not be silenced. It will not be bottled up. It does not stop because we fail to pray or because the vineyard does not look just like we want it to. No, all of history, all the movement of time has brought you here and now. Repent and believe the Good News. For you are forgiven all your sins, forgiven today, forgiven for all eternity.