Producing Good Fruit

Readings for October 8, 2017
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43


The inhabitants of Jerusalem during Isaiah’s time and the chief priests and elders during Jesus’ time shared a sense of entitlement based on status. They believed they were entitled to salvation because they were counted among the chosen. In an honest self-assessment, I must confess to having a similar sense of entitlement in my own life today. God has planted the vineyard in my life and given me all I need to bring forth sweet and abundant fruit, yet often I yield wild grapes. I find it easy to center my thoughts and activities on those things that bring me worldly praise or honor. If I do something I define as good, I seek out praise. If praise is not forthcoming, I can get frustrated or even angry. Holding onto this sense of entitlement keeps me fixated on myself, separating me from God’s will. Without God, the yield is ugly – what was sewn as good crop comes forth as wild grapes. Blanketed in selfishness, a sewn desire to serve others harvests a desire for self-seeking praise. The consequences of that yield can be equally ugly, as Isaiah warns, leaving the vineyard trampled and in ruins. My ego can distract me from the value of my own good deed, and can leave me upset and angry at the lack of praise from others, causing me to trample and hack away at God’s will for my life. Jesus similarly warns of a “wretched death” and a loss of our inheritance “to a people that will produce its fruit.” This means that if I do not learn to let go of my ego, I am sinning by turning my back on God’s will, which could cost me my salvation.

The harsh punishment for a poor yield leaves me hoping for the mercy and love and forgiveness of the past few Sunday readings. It can be overwhelming to try to accept the tough love side to God’s will and to accept responsibility for my own salvation. So I try to rationalize my own measly yield against those in Jesus’ parable. I can rationalize that those tenants were some bad dudes, killing the son of the landowner. I just want to hear the words “thank you” when I do a favor for somebody. However, when I look up at the large crucifix hanging over the altar at my church, I realize the emptiness of my rationalization and the impact of my own sins. Jesus is the entitled One, the Son of God. Jesus is the landowner’s son. Jesus was killed by and for sin. My sin.

In the song “My Jesus” by Todd Agnew, the lyrics say Jesus “was battered and scarred. Or did you miss that part?” Powerful words. Graphic reminder. It is also a call to holiness. Paul picks up the theme of how I should live out my faith in holiness. In his letter to the Philippians, he writes that I need to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise.” Paul’s words turn my focus from believing my own goodness makes me worthy of praise, to an other-centered love of all things good and holy. I need to praise God rather than seek to be the focus of praise. In praise, I must pray, as the Psalm prays, “O Lord, God of hosts, restore us; if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.”

God of peace, I call upon Your name. Guard my heart and mind. Ease my anxiety. Take the pride from my heart and help me to do what is pleasing to You so to bring forth the fruitful harvest to which You alone are entitled. Give me new life, keep me from withdrawing from You, let Your face shine upon me. I ask this in accord with the Holy Sacrifice and saving grace of Your Son, my Lord, Jesus Christ.

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