But then the prophet continues: “The more his fruit increased the more altars he built; as his country improved he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt.” The more successful Israel became the more Israel turned to idolatry by building altars and pillars to false gods. Israel gave itself over to every sort of sin. The prophet Jeremiah says: “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord God (2:21-22).” And so the Lord hands over his precious vineyard to the nations around it, sending his people into exile, as the prophet Ezekiel says: “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (15.6)” Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations by their holiness, showing others the beauty of God.
Jesus uses this same imagery in the parable we heard today. Israel is the vineyard, God is the landowner. The servants are the prophets, the tenants are people of Israel, specifically the chief priests and elders. Jesus is the Son whom the land owner sent at the last to obtain his produce. Jesus will later tell his disciples at the Last Supper: “I am the true vine (John 15:1).” Jesus does what Israel could not do for itself. He is the true vine that bears eternal fruit. Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)”
The question we are left with is whether we are bearing fruit or not. The Song of Songs says, “but, my own vineyard I have not kept. (Song of Songs 1:6)” Unless we are joined to Jesus heart and soul, we cannot bear good fruit. Like Israel, we become corrupted by our sins. But the Lord, if we allow him, will still take care of his vineyard. If we refuse his grace and are unwilling to be transformed to the image of his Son, Jesus tells us that his Father will take us away from the vine. If we accept his grace, it will not be an easy thing to transform our lives: he will prune the branches, literally cleanse and purify us, so that we will bear more good fruit. This process will have its joys certainly, and the peace that comes with following the Lord. But it will also be uncomfortable. Yet, St. Paul tells us not to have anxiety. Trust the Lord and his peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. He tells us to meditate on whatever is honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent and praiseworthy. Then he says, not just the feeling of peace, but the God of peace will be with us.