- It begins with the words: Let me now sing about my friend and his vineyard.
I place myself in a club, listening to a folk singer strumming softly and addressing the audience over the talking
and laughing and cigarette smoke. I will try to catch the attention of our congregation in such a way today.
- The song is filled with the friend’s dedication to a prize vineyard: spaded, cleared of stones,
planted the choicest vines. Our friend did everything possible, and that is the meaning I will convey.
- He looked for the
crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes. What is the mood of the song? Neither
empathy with hard life nor jest at human foibles, but heartbreak over so much wasted potential. I hum the
ballad ‘So Sad’ by the Everly Brothers. I think of a civil engineer who knows what had to be
done to save the city and who sees it destroyed before his eyes.
- The singer shifts to a new mood. Judge
between me and my vineyard. Is it blind anger I am after? Or will I look for an appeal
to reason, as someone who loves the land (who loves Israel), who sees what can be and is outraged when it all comes out wrong?
In that spirit of abandon I will repeat the curse the landowner speaks: take away its hedge, break through its wall,
make it a ruin, overgrown, trampled.
- But then I hear a new voice: I will command the clouds
not to send rain on it. Only God can give such a command. So the friend has always been
a stand-in for God, and now we are in transition to the God’s-eye view of history.
- He looked for judgment,
but – see! – Bloodshed! Now I know why I must shed no tears over the old vine.
That vine represents the house (rulers) of Israel. God does not expect violence, but justice.
I read like a hellfire preacher, striving for a level above the everyday. For me, ‘see’
is the strongest word in the sentence! The prophet wants to engage us, to acknowledge the atrocities with
our own eyes.
- Within the parallels with today’s Gospel that we hear, there are divergences. In
Isaiah’s song, the vines are to blame for yielding wild grapes, and the vineyard is abandoned. In
the Gospel Jesus blames the stewards who tended the vineyard, and their crimes are avenged.
- The Climax
comes in the interpretation: The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel. There is no room
for us to disregard the message. It is about a ruling class such as ours and their infidelity.
They are judged not by their words but by their evil deeds: bloodshed, the outcry (of the afflicted)
- Message for
our assembly: No one is guaranteed admittance into the glory of the Lord by birth, by baptism, by running with the right crowd.
God evaluates the yield of our labor, just as a winemaster judges the vintage.
- I will challenge myself: to nail the passage
again with the same force as I did when I declared it in Spanish during a workshop for lectors so many years ago.
I know from the response of my listeners that I got the right tone and intensity, and that proclamation did indeed
take place that day.
- The apostle is closing his farewell letter to a young church, leaving all of himself in his
words. What would I want to say if I knew I would not see again someone I deeply loved? Let
me read the passage in that same spirit.
- He lists a new set of group behaviors that will help that church grow and mature after
he is gone. First, he disposes of anxiety, that could threaten their life of grace. Then
he urges them to turn to prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.
- Finally come the states of the church,
starting with true and honorable. They are not the ‘four marks’ of the ‘establishment,’
but they meet the expectations of the secular world, and so they authenticate the historical church to the world.
true apostle, a true teacher, is not satisfied with telling the disciples what to do. Are they doing
it on their own? That is the meaning of the last sentence. We learn and receive and
hear and see; then we go and do it, and keep on doing it.
- Climax: God is always with us, but we will notice
that presence, the presence of The God of peace, when we pray with that intensity. That phrase God of peace
closes both parts of the reading for today, and I will utter it with finality.
- The message for our assembly: Can we pass an evaluation based
on the eight attributes the apostle lists for the Philippians? Think about these things.
- I will challenge myself: To
capture the spirit of the farewell letter.
Matthew 21, 33-43
- There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. The parable
sounds like the song from Isaiah. Once again we have a vineyard, and vines are planted and cared for.
But this time the landowner hires tenants to tend the vines.
- This landowner does not come to obtain
his produce. He sends emissaries, and they are beaten, killed, and stoned. Such forbearance!
What kind of landowner (think of Amazonian Brazil) would take such disregard in stride? If my listeners
are not struck by the patience of the landowner, I have not read the passage well.
- Finally he sends the final
emissary, his son: They will respect my son. Then comes a scene that sounds eerily like Christ’s
Passion and Death. Come, let us kill him. And they seized him, threw him
out of the vineyard and killed him.
- The Gospel passage quotes a famous verse from the psalms: The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone. Today the church understands the stone as referring not to the chosen people
Israel but the people who stand with Jesus.
- Climax: What will the owner of the vineyard to do those tenants? Here is
a judgment, a ‘root and branch’ judgment that does away not with the vines but with the stewards.
I will pause to let the assembly answer for itself.
- Message for our assembly: The kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit. The early church spoke this message to one hostile audience.
My concern is less with long departed adversaries than it is with the people in power today who do violence to their
brothers and sisters in the Lord. Who are our martyrs today?
- I will challenge myself: To maintain an edge of outrage
toward those who rejected the Good News then and now.
to Eucharist: Our communion processions go on so calmly. Where is the sense that the Lord Jesus is wanted by the powers
of the world? What does it cost us to come forward besides a couple of hours on a given Sunday?