The Parable of the Tenants provides us with easy targets to point our fingers at. Whether it be the Chief Priests or the elders from the temple or perhaps even the Israelite’s themselves. The targets are easy in light of the ending we know is in store for Jesus. This is the third parable in which Jesus provides a response to the questions of his authority for being in the temple and we know the result.
But all of this is too easy. We need to ask the question how is the vineyard today? Only then can we get to the heart of the parable and deal with the truth in our own lives.
Text: Matthew 21: 33-46
How is the Vineyard?
How are we doing with the vineyard today?
It would be easy for me to start pointing fingers at those nasty tenants who agreed to work the land while the landowner was away on business. Far to easy to point to their greed in not allowing the harvest to be collected. Far to easy to point to their propensity for violence in the beating, stoning and killing of the three who came to collect what belonged to the landowner.
It is too easy to paint them as bad or wicked people. They even kill the son of the landowner when he comes, what kind of people are these? Why such violence, such hatred and distrust. To think they thought that by killing the son they would gain his inheritance.
It is far too easy to point our fingers at the chief priests and the elders who heard Jesus tell this story. A story with striking similarities to what we read in Isaiah, this story should not have been a surprise to the chief priests. Indeed, they give the right answer. But we’ve read the parable, we’ve read the whole book we know what happens next. When the chief priests are singled out as being no better than those tenants, well they don’t like it one bit.
All of this is far too easy. It is important, this is the third response that Jesus gives to the temple leadership about questions of authority. We heard the first two last week in the question of John’s baptism and the parable of the two sons. Here Jesus hammers the point home.
Eugene Peterson describes parables as narrative time bombs. Eventually, the message clicks in and boom! Today’s parable has a very short fuse, it does not take long to figure out the message of Jesus. We might say this is a mic drop moment. Jesus has put a challenge before the chief priests and we all know how it ends. It seems that telling parables can get you killed.
But you know all of this and it’s far too easy. Instead I’ll ask again, how are we doing with the vineyard today?
I regret to inform you that we are not doing very well with what God has entrusted us. Please understand that I say that in very general and broad terms. I’m not pointing a finger at the good work that this congregation does. Rather, I am looking at the state of the world today. Yes, we can drill down and equate the vineyard to particular congregations and locations. Reading this parable allegorically, we see the vineyard as Israel and the words of Jesus point to widening the message to the Gentiles when he tells the chief priests, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
And yes within the world their are acts of kindness and compassion that are worthy of note. Courageous actions which change our world for the better, acts of love which change the world of just one person for the better. We know these things happen, I know that you are involved in them. I have witnessed your acts of kindness to one another, I have seen how you welcomed the ‘other’ offering love and compassion. We know these things happen.
And yet, and yet when I look at the state of the vineyard today I am filled with sadness because we are killing the servants who come to check in on us because of our shame. We have killed the son because of our guilt and we live in a world which refuses to believe or acknowledge that there is a holy and sovereign God. The world has grown weary of the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that we offer, because the world recognizes how terrible the state of things are and we all feel helpless.
We live in a world where a mass shooting occurs in the United States and the first and immediate response is don’t talk about gun control. We need to come together and support one another. And the next time it happens we will hear the same thing, we know this because it’s what has happened all the times before. We need something to break the cycle, we need to start a new conversation. The vineyard is in rough shape south of the border.
But we shouldn’t think we are immune. Canada has its own problems. We have a housing crisis in Northumberland County with a vacancy rate which 0.3%. A healthy vacancy rate is 3%. There is a municipality in Northumberland County which is not interested in Affordable Housing in its community. Please don’t come and build here is the message received.
We have First Nations communities which do not have access to potable water. We all assume that turning a tap and receiving drinkable water is a right, yet there are people in Canada who have to boil their water. There are over 153 drinking water advisories in Canada, some of them span more than two decades. Shoal Lake 40 First Nation which is on the Manitoba-Ontario border and supplies the city of Winnpeg with clean water. Yet the First Nation people have been under a boil water advisory for 20 years. It’s the same lake.
The vineyard is in rough shape here in Canada. And we haven’t talked about places like Syria or other war-torn countries. We haven’t spoken about economic practices which keep Western nations rich and other nations poor. We haven’t talked about food security, here at home or in places of the world experiencing famine and drought.
Friends, the vineyard is not doing too well these days. We forget that we are only leasing the land, we forget that we were asked to care for it. It seems we have neglected some of the most foundational aspects of what God expects of us, of what Jesus came and taught to us.
Friends this is a parable about rejection and stewardship. Rejection because the tenants have thoroughly rejected God. The chief priests have rejected God, they will kill his son. It is a reminder of the rejection that we see in our own world. Where it is far easier to bow and worship the almighty dollar than it is to praise and worship our holy God. I wonder if we reject God because of our shame? The shame of what we have done with the things we were to care for.
This is a parable about stewardship as it is obvious what we are supposed to be doing. Yet, we seem to be content to confine ourselves to our own yards, forgetting that God asked we tend to the entire vineyard, to all of creation. We are its stewards.
A bumper sticker reads, “The world you desire comes not by chance but by change.” The difference a letter can make. If we want to tend to the vineyard then we need to be serious about it. This is going to send harsh, but Jesus didn’t say send ‘thoughts and prayers to those in need. Jesus said, “Feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick.” Jesus said, “Go and do.” I’m not saying don’t pray, but I am hoping our prayers motivate us towards action. That deeds would follow after our faith.
You. All of you are leaders in the Kingdom of Heaven. All of you. And God needs you. God needs you to work in the world. God needs you to work towards justice. God needs you to create a world where the Beatitudes aren’t just a platitude. God needs you to create a world where the Beatitudes are not only possible, but reality.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, we can give thanks for what we have received and as an act of thanksgiving we can work to ensure that the vineyard is healthy and welcoming to all. You. All of you are followers of Jesus Christ, known and called. And now more than ever God needs you. Amen.