Jesus told a parable about a vineyard where the workers actually rebelled against the owner and eventually kill the son. In this story, Jesus takes the time to explain that the vineyard contained 3 structures: A winepress, a wall and a watchtower. Rather than go to the “big meaning” behind this parable, my mind went to thoughts around these three structures and whether they could have meaning for us today.
A vineyard, of course, is a collection of vines. And, because commercial viability is often dependent upon volume, we could probably assume there were quite a few vines, and in any case, who would build a watchtower for one or two? Jesus said: “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” Christians are “little Christs”. Each of us has Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, dwelling inside us – the vine dwells inside us and that produces fruit on the branches of our daily life.
OK let’s break for a song!
“Jesus bids us shine with a pure clean light, like a little candle burning in the night. In this world of darkness, so we must shine – you in your small corner and I in mine” (If you remember singing this as a kid then you probably have the sign of wisdom on your head).
We might be fine with the thought of me in my small corner producing fruit and you in yours, with the occasional sharing of stories, but the thing is we were made for family, for community, for each other, for togetherness. (John 17!)
Being together in sometimes pressured situations might mean help with a few imperfections as they can cause a bit of a ruckus and we are tempted to think less of each other than grace would require.
Which I think leads us nicely to the first structure.
It is likely that it will take the combined fruit of many to feed a needy world with the new wine of the Kingdom that they desperately need. This means that we might get thrown together into the winepress of fellowship, and be subject to great pressures. What might look like a painful process often ends up by being very fruitful as the wine flows. Hebrews hints at this when the writer said: “discipline may seem painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness”. Later? Yes, so stick with it!
Often this process goes on quite publically, and personally I am heartened by Jesus words when he said, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the middle of them.” When I am going into the winepress with my fellow believers, it’s great to know that Jesus is right there – helping us see the real issues and work stuff out. Of course if we only had “pressing times” together, it would be pretty stressful. Therefore we get to enjoy times of victory and happiness too. Are you in the winepress with others right now? Tempted to cut and run because it’s just too hard? Ask yourself this: Did God put you there? If it’s yes, see it through until the full fruit of what he intends is evident. If it’s no, then what are you doing! Ask God for a graceful exit that will leave a redemptive trail behind you!
The produce of the vine may not even make it to the winepress without a wall. Why? Simply because of one very sly animal. The fox. But, not even a full-grown fox is needed. A baby fox will do nicely. (Song of Songs 2 v 15)
The moment that these little things come along is never an accident. In Songs, the moment is when the vines are in blossom – preceding the time of fruitfulness. So what are “foxes”? In the context of true fellowship, it will be anything that destroys that fellowship. Colossians 3 gives a whole list of “little foxes” that would destroy fellowship, but then shows the way of kindness and forgiveness as an effective antidote. This, then, also describes the Wall. To keep the boundary intact, with every stone of forgiveness, truthful speech, loving kindness, humble correction, honour and many other stones firmly in place will mean that no little fox will gain access and rob the sweet blossom of relationships that precede the fruit.
One of the weaknesses in some Christian thought is around cause and effect. The sovereignty of God is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for the consequences of your own choices! So, what do we think is going on when the scripture says “a brother offended is hard to win back”? Who offended them, and why did they take offence? We may, as Andy Baddeley pointed out, need to do some things differently if we are to enjoy even more togetherness (Sermon archive, Sunday 7th Sept 2014) Let’s be really clear about this – If I gossip about you, lie, have an agenda for you that suits me, treat you with dishonor or treat with contempt the saints who Jesus purchased with his own blood, then I weaken the wall. This is not a heavy word, but it is important.
The founder of the Taize community in France wrote one of the most helpful things that I ever read, and became a foundational principle. He said that he no longer sought to judge people, but to understand them. Amen to that.
I struggled with this one, but didn’t really understand why. It was sort of obvious that a watchtower would enable one to see over the vines, above the wall, and into the distance. Perhaps it was to get an aerial view of the vineyard so that any fox that did gain entry could be spotted.
One commentator added the missing piece:
[The position would be]”elevated, so that she looks not up from earth to heaven, but down from heaven to earth. If we retain “nose,” discernment of spiritual fragrance is meant..”
I draw two things from this.
1. To retain heaven’s perspective on the affairs and occurrences of our shared lives is vital if we are to avoid missing the point of what is happening.
2. Detecting the fragrance of his perfect will in our lives individually but also corporately is best done at elevation.
How many times have you been focused on an unfolding situation, certain that you knew what and why it was happening only to realize later that it was actually about something else? I have lost count.
Once, a woman who had been ill for 38 years touched Jesus. The crowd was pressing around, and she touched the hem of his garment. He asked who had touched him, but the disciples said it was a dumb question because everyone was touching him. What happened next is incredibly important: Jesus ignored the disciples and kept on looking. Something else was going on, and Jesus was determined to find out what it was.
I have found that the following four words have been helpful in this.
Give it time – give God time – to speak to you.
In closing, it turned out that the Winepress, Wall and Watchtower were helpful, and if the above was too much, here is the short version:
- Understand that to produce new wine, we will be pressed together
- Know that the enemy wants to spoil this work – but keep the wall intact – not giving way to the “foxes”.
- Keep heavens perspective. God is doing things that we may not see at first, so ask the Holy Spirit to hone your ability to sense and see what is really going on.
Andy East – 10/09/14