The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
October 6, 2002
Isaiah 5:1-7 + Philippians 4:6-9 + Matthew 21:33-43
Back in the vineyard, a parable invites us to wonder about something, and I want suggest that its focus is God. The easy way with this parable is be threatened by the behavior of the tenants so that we do not act like them, or to see an image of the Passion of Christ in the owner’s Son. All of these work at one level or another, but if we stay with our level and raise the issue of what this parable says about God, something different happens. We are then left to wonder – to wonder about God, and that’s a good place to be today.
There is a historical way of looking at this parable that excuses the behavior of the tenants. If we knew anything about their condition and the customs of the time, their revolt might be justifiable. There is another level that gives us reason to consider this son and his relationship both with the father and with the tenants. Finally there is the level that leads us to realize that the one constant in all levels and in every episode of this story is the landowner.
If we stay at our level of this parable, we can maintain our focus on the landowner and do some serious wondering at which point the living Word of God brings us to life. It is a story about being entrusted with a role in the vineyard by God. It leaves us to wonder what happens when those entrusted with something try to possess it and keep it as if it was their own. The gift turns to greed, and service in the vineyard to violence. Something is wrong here, and we need to wonder about it.
If you read very carefully this story of the heartbreaking betrayal of God and of terrible violence toward his slaves and his son, there is no suggestion that God is violent nor that God responds violently. That idea comes from the betrayers themselves. They are the ones who suggest that God will be angry and violent, not Jesus nor Matthew. So full of their own violence, so permeated in mind and heart are they, that they cannot imagine a God who is any different from them. They suggest the ending to this story, and Jesus never says it’s the right ending – he simply talks about rejected stones and insists that those who produce fruit in the vineyard will come into the Kingdom of God. So as always, wondering about God leads us to understand something about ourselves.
This is a parable that says a great deal and raises a lot of questions in a violent nation that looks to violence as a greed driven solution; to a culture so permeated with violence that it no longer can conceive of any other option to conflict; and to a people who continue to shape the image of God in their own likeness. It is a parable that gives wonder to anyone who has forgotten their role in the vineyard and has begun to think of possessions as their own and consider ways of making it so. The persistence and the eventual victory of God’s plan is clearly announced by this parable with the hope that their hearts of stone will be turned into the cornerstone; something that would be wonderful to behold and to celebrate. We are left to wonder when and how it shall come to pass, and what we should be doing in this vineyard to produce this fruit.