How many times have we read Christ’s parable of the vineyard and assumed its application is long in the past? It’s easy to interpret as the history of the Jews, who were given the Abrahamic Covenant but then failed in their stewardship by rejecting the prophets and ultimately killing the Master’s Son.
But recently, reading Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy, I saw the parable in a whole new light. Tolstoy says:
“The husbandmen imagined that the vineyard in which they were sent to work for their master was their own, and all that was in it was made for them, and that their business was to enjoy life in this vineyard—forgetting the master and killing all those who reminded them of his existence.
“Are we not doing the same . . . when we imagine ourselves to be masters of our lives and that life is given us for enjoyment? For evidently this is absurd. We were sent here by someone’s will and for some purpose, and we have concluded that we live only for our own enjoyment. And of course things go ill with us, as they do with laborers when they do not fulfill their master’s orders.”
Peculiar to America is the notion that God established this nation and its government, but, like the husbandmen in the parable, we, the stewards of the vineyard, have tried to expropriate for ourselves what is His. I was told the other day that if I chose to refuse to fight for my country on grounds of my Christian beliefs, it would be “immoral.” ‘Splain me that, Lucy. This land is whose land? God created America for His purposes, not vice versa.
We criticize the first-Christmas innkeeper for not making room, but at least he had the excuse that he didn’t know. We, the husbandmen, know when we are denying Him room and driving the Master’ Son from the vineyard.
One of the temptations Lucifer offered Christ was “all the kingdoms of the world,” ironic since Christ created the world and was bound to inherit it if he didn’t fall for the temptations. Are we any different from Satan if we think the world is ours to keep or give? The husbandmen told themselves when the son of the master approached, “This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours” (Luke 20:14).
We don’t want to be reminded of our subordinate position or of our stewardship, or especially that all the vineyard has to offer is not ours. We Americans consume four times our share of the earth’s bounty—at least those of us who don’t go hungry. We think it is our right as a “heaven-rescued land,” but we ignore the second commandment, to love our neighbor.
And the question rises again: who is our neighbor? The Iranian, the North Korean, the Cuban, the Venezuelan, the Iraqi, the Syrian, the Congolese, the Sudanese. These are some of the counterparts for Americans to the Samaritans. Who else is my neighbor? The illegal immigrant, the prisoner, the “Welfare Queen,” the drop-out. But wait! They have betrayed the law of the vineyard, which is, “Work hard and you’ll earn enough to go on vacation every year and retire early.” They don’t deserve of the bounty of our American vineyard. They desecrate the credo “May God thy gold refine / ‘Til all success be nobleness / And every gain divine!”
I believe that God did set this nation aside. But why? So we could grow fat, dumb and selfish? So we could accumulate wealth? No, it was to bring about His own designs. What are they? What is the Master going to do with the fruits of this vineyard? We don’t know. But we can certainly keep in mind whose vineyard it is, listen to His messengers, and accept His Son into His vineyard with the respect and love due Him.