Homily of St Ambrose on Matthew 21:33-46
There are several different interpretations of the term vineyard: but Isaiah said plainly that the vineyard of the Lord of Sabaoth was the house of Israel. Who else but God planted this vineyard? It is he then that let it out to husbandmen, and went himself into a strange country; not that the Lord went from place to place, since he is present everywhere; but that he is more especially present with those who are diligent in his service, and far from those who are negligent. He was abroad for a long time, lest he should seem overhasty in what he required. For where the more indulgent liberality has been shown, there obstinacy is the more inexcusable.
Thus it is well said, according to Matthew, that he “put a hedge about it,” that is, he fenced it in with the wall of divine protection, lest it should too easily be open to the inroads of spiritual wild beasts. And he “dug a wine-vat in it.” How shall we understand what is meant by this wine-vat, unless perhaps, since certain Psalms are inscribed: “For the presses”; for in these Psalms the mysteries of the Lord’s Passion seethe and brim over with the Holy Spirit like foaming new-made wine? Whence those men were thought to be drunk, who were flooded with the Holy Spirit. This man, therefore, dug the vine-vat into which the inward fruit of the reasonable grape should flow in a spiritual outpouring.
“He built a tower”: he raised aloft, so to say, the pinnacle of the law; and “then he let it [the vineyard] out,” thus furnished, tended, and adorned, to the Jews. “And, at the fruit season, he sent his servants.” It is well put: “At the fruit season,” not, “At the vintage.” For no fruit came forth from the Jews, no vintage from this vineyard, whereof the Lord says: “I looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it has brought forth thorns.” And, therefore, these vine-vats did not run over with the wine of joy, the new-made wine of the spirit, but with the blood of the Prophets who were slain.
Prayer: Grant to your people, we beseech you, O Lord, health of mind and body, that, by persevering in good works, we may be worthy to be protected by your mighty power. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
– St Ambrose, Bk. 9 on Luke, Ch. 20; from: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns & Oates, London, 1964