Topical and Doctrinal Notes
Thought: The Vineyard
Whenever our Lord the Savior, Jesus Christ, spoke a parable, every word in it meant something much deeper than people then thought, and than people now think. It was so when He spoke the parable about the laborers in the vineyard. To understand why He selected a vineyard in this parable, or a field where grain was sown, in some other parable, we need to know what the heavenly Doctrines reveal to us about the other world. There, whenever the Lord teaches the angels of heaven, what He teaches is shown by means of an interesting display of scenery in the lower part of heaven. When He speaks of one thing, fields appear planted with wheat or barley or oats, or other grain. When He speaks of another subject then vineyards appear, with their terraces, bearing the beautiful grapevines, with watch-towers, and with wine-presses.
Every Christian knows in a general way that when the Lord spoke of fields, and sowing seed in the field, He meant the minds of people in which is sown the truth of the Word. And so when they read of a vineyard and working in it, people know in a general way, that the Lord meant the church and working in the church.
But they have not known that there are two kinds of churches, one represented by a field, the other by a vineyard. Nor could we know it in the New Church, if the Lord had not opened the eyes of Swedenborg's spirit, so that he could see what takes place in the other world, and the wonderful scenes unrolling in the lower part of heaven, while the Lord fills the minds of the angels higher up with thoughts about spiritual and heavenly things; and also unless the Lord had instructed Swedenborg in the internal sense while he was reading the Word, so that he could make it known to men on earth.
Now, what do the angels of heaven learn from the Lord while the scene of a vineyard appears below them? They learn about the Lord's spiritual church, and how this is established by Him in the minds of men.
Remember that there are two kinds of churches: one called "celestial" and the other "spiritual;" the one being more in love with the good that comes from the Lord, and the other more in love with the truth which comes from Him. The vineyard means the second kind of church.
How do the people of this church show their love for the truth? They work for it. How? Why, they study it. They read and study the Word; and, in the New Church, they learn to understand the Word aright by studying the heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem. This is the beginning of their work.
With grown people who have not been taught aright when they were young, learning the truth involves getting rid of mistaken ideas, and removing falsities.
What kind of falsities? Oh, there are many kinds. Here are a few: That Jesus Christ was only a good man, not Divine; that we must pray to St. Mary; that we must pray to God to do things for us "for Christ's sake;" that it does not matter what a man believes, so long as he lives a virtuous life; that the Bible is not the Word of God, but merely the literature of an interesting people, etc., etc. There are many mistaken ideas and falsities that people who learn the truth must get rid of, and it means hard work to get rid of them.
While the angels are thinking about these things, or talking about them among themselves, laborers appear down below in the vineyard, who are clearing the ground of stones, and rooting out weeds, for stones and weeds which obstruct the growth of the grapevines correspond to falsities which are in the way of truths.
And while the angels think of how the truths learned from the Word are loved and cherished and received as things to be obeyed, the vines down below shoot out leaves and buds; and while the angels talk about the good things that people do in consequence of living in accordance with the truth, the grapes on the vines down below are seen to grow larger and turn into the beautiful colors of ripe grapes.
While the angels think of evil habits that threaten to destroy the good thoughts and affections of a man who has learned the truth and strives to live according to it, there appear in the vineyard below, foxes and other thieves, who are driven away by the men on the watch-tower.
And as the angels further think about the good influences that are exerted on others through one's understanding of the truth and real genuine love for it and pleasure in it, the men of the vineyard are seen to labor in gathering the ripe grapes, and taking them to the wine-press to press the wine out of them.
Now you begin to see why the Lord spoke the parable about the men who labored in the vineyard. It means the work we have to do in removing false ideas out of our minds, in guarding against evils which are forbidden by the Lord's truth, and in doing good to others in accordance with the same truth.
Some people have a very hard time in doing all this. For they have long held false views and confirmed or strengthened themselves in them, by quotations from the Word which seem to teach such falsities. It is hard for them to get rid of their old ideas, and they labor harder than others in doing so. Or, they may have had bad habits of life, and they have to work so hard to get rid of them that they sometimes sweat and cry, - it is so hard and painful. These are meant by the laborers who were hired early in the morning, bearing "the burden and the heat of the day." And they sometimes think that because they have labored so hard while on earth, they deserve to have, after death, a better heaven than others who have not had to work so hard, as for instance those who die young. Those who die as babies or as children are brought up in heaven, and do not have to labor so hard as many who grow up and spend a long life on earth; for they do not learn any false religions from their angel teachers, but the truth, and they do not acquire any evil habits, but soon discover and shun the evil which crops out from their inherited inclinations. These were meant by the Lord when He spoke of the laborers who were hired at the eleventh hour, and so worked only one hour in the vineyard.
But it is from the merciful goodness of the Lord, that He is willing to give heaven to all, and with it the truth of heaven; which is meant by the amount of money which the householder gave to all alike, whether they had come at daybreak, or at the eleventh hour.