Sharing the love and compassion of Christ

Mary Copping, 8 October 2017

Philippians 3: 4–14; Matthew 21: 33–46

As some of you may know, in my teens I went to a Billy Graham convention. For those not familiar with Billy Graham, he is an American evangelist, widely regarded as the most influential preacher of the 20th century. My friend and I decided to go and see him at Earls Court; neither of us were Christians but we wanted to go and see this famous person. His preaching was convincing, the singing was very moving and at the end, when Billy Graham invited people to come to the front to give their lives to Jesus, we went up (I think more for a closer view of this famous preacher than to change our lives). The organisation was amazing: we each had two people to talk to us, who gave us a free book by Billy Graham and took our details. They then arranged for people to call on us each Sunday morning to take us to a local church, and we also had books sent to us in the post. One can’t fault the care and attention to detail. However, after a while I got tired of going to church and decided that I didn’t have time for Christianity – it just wasn’t for me.

In our gospel reading, Jesus tells the story of the vineyard owner who put tenants in to look after the grapes. When the owner sent his slaves in to collect the produce, the tenants stoned them. As a last resort, he sent his son, and they killed him so they could get the inheritance. A picture, for those listening to Jesus – the Pharisees – of God sending his prophets to draw them back to him, but when this failed he sent his only son, that they might believe in him. But the Pharisees had rejected Jesus and were trying to find ways to kill him. (This parable was told by Jesus in his last days, when he knew they were after his life.) The Pharisees realised that the parable was about them and they wanted to have him arrested; but they didn’t dare for fear of what the crowd around Jesus would do.

Vineyards were used a lot in the Bible as a symbol of the house of Israel. They were associated with a settled, peaceful life; they were important for agriculture at that time and also a sign of wealth. So those listening would have understood the importance of what Jesus was saying.

The Pharisees, the guardians of the vineyard, rejected the prophets, rejected Jesus and dissuaded others from following him. One can sympathise a bit with the Pharisees – the guardians of the Jewish tradition and the Law of Moses – who may have seen in Jesus a man gathering a cult around him and telling everyone he was the son of God, which was blasphemy to them. They were only doing what they thought was right for their people. Yet in doing this they rejected the Son of God, the person to bring salvation and healing to their people.

We can look around the world today and see so many who have rejected Jesus – those who feel they are far too busy; those who feel that belief in Jesus is a crutch that weak people need, but they are managing quite well on their own, without any help; those who feel that he is just in the imagination, and not something any intellectual person could assent to.

Many of us may have been Christians all our lives, so are used to living with the knowledge of God with us. Some have been Christians part of our lives and know the emptiness of living without God. Whichever applies to us, we are the workers God sends into his harvest field to tell others about Jesus, to be Jesus to those who have rejected him – such as the tenants, the Pharisees, those who don’t have time for him, who see him as irrelevant.

I was part of an evangelical church for a few years, where the belief of many was that if people died without knowing Jesus, they would not go to heaven. Thus there was an urgency to tell people about Jesus so they would have a chance to believe in him and be saved. Most Christians believe that God, who loves the world and each individual in it, wants as many as possible to be saved. However, in other churches the emphasis is less on fear of hell and more on wanting others to know about Jesus, to live as a follower of his, to live in the knowledge of God’s love, to be part of a Christian community, to experience the love of God through Jesus for themselves – not to see him as irrelevant. I think both/and. As Romans 11: 34 says, ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?’

In one of the commentaries about this passage, the writer suggests that we have each been given our own vineyards to cultivate, to bear fruit – they are the people around us: our families, friends, church, places we work, people we see each day. This is where we show the love of Jesus, tell people about him and bear fruit, as shown by him when he was here on earth, and as described in the letter to the Galatians, chapter 5, verses 22–23: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’

We have each been given our own vineyards to cultivate, to bear fruit – they are the people around us: our families, friends, church, places we work, people we see each day.

I wonder how much we pray for those around us, pray that God will speak to them through us, act through us to show them his love and to draw them to him through his Son Jesus.

We can’t, and don’t have to, do this on our own. Jesus said he would send the comforter, the teacher, to be our guide and help – the power of his Holy Spirit. As Paul says in the letter to the Philippians (3: 10): ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings’. And in this world this goes hand in hand. As we go out into the world to share the love and compassion of Christ with others, with Christ we share the suffering of the world. As we see terrible happenings in the world – the shooting in Las Vegas where one man shot 56 and injured over 500 – how can we make a difference? The Billy Graham organisation sent in some counsellors to help people in Las Vegas after the mass shooting, to be God’s love in action, being where the people are, comforting those in pain and suffering.

We can’t do what they are doing, but we can do something. In a discussion in a group meeting I was at recently, people spoke about their despair of the world and of all that is happening in it – and that is a realistic view. But as Christians we are people of hope, people who are sharing the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the world, going out into the world with Christ beside us, leading and guiding us. The little bit that we can do can and does make a difference. Think of the butterfly effect –small things that we do can gently flutter out and cause a greater effect to those around us – hard to believe, but we can make a difference.

But all must be built on prayer. If we want to bear fruit in our own vineyard, we are to pray – for all those around us, for the world – and then expect God to act through us as we go out into the world each day. Amen.