Saint Ann, Fairview + Saint Anthony, Okeene + Saint Thomas, Seiling, OK
Isaiah 5, 1-7 + Psalm 80 + Philippians 4, 6-9 + Matthew 21, 33-43
It is again this week a parable that leads us to reflect upon conversion as a response to the presence of Jesus Christ. Sadly, when left without reflection and heard in a shallow way this parable has, to our disgrace, led to anti-Semitism; and it has been used to do great harm to Jewish people. It must be understood that it is the leaders of the Jewish people who are being singled out in this parable not the entire Jewish people. The church for which Matthew wrote was primarily Jewish in heritage and origins. They are certainly not condemning themselves or suggesting that they had any role or responsibility for the death of Christ. As with all parables, something about God is being revealed here, and while it might be helpful to explore details that say something about other characters, it is impossible to stop there and not ask the question: “What does this tell us about God?”
So we listen to the story and our focus should not shift off the owner of the vineyard. At the center of this parable stands the property owner. He has carefully prepared his property to be in perfect shape; planted, hedged, walled, watered, and tower has been built. It is his, and we know that he has done everything to make the property productive. He leases it. He does not give it away. He expects those he has put in charge to produce something and provide him with that produce. These people left in charge have decided it’s theirs, or that it should be, and they set about trying to make it so. The owner stands firm until the final act of violence destroys his son.
With this story, Jesus makes one more attempt to bring those chief priests and elders of the people to conversion; to changing their response to his message and their method of leadership and distortion of religion. He even teases them into the story by asking them what they think the owner will do. Still no change even when they see where this conflict is leading.
In this parable the term “The Kingdom of God” is used in an unusual way. Here instead of referring to the age to come, it refers not to the future but to a special relationship with God as the chosen ones. Chosen by God these tenants are the elect who have both privilege and responsibility by reason of their relationship with God. Because of their refusal to change in response to the message of Christ, the leaders of the people are going to lose that special relationship. Having failed in their responsibility to produce fruit as tenants, they lose their privilege place with God.
The great challenge here comes with a realization that what this parable describes has happened. Because those leaders rejected John and Jesus, they lost the privilege of their relationship, and others have taken their place as the chosen ones. The message of this Gospel is the truth that we are the ones who have been chosen to take their place. As before, there is no privilege like this relationship with God without responsibility. Now bringing to God the produce from God’s creation, and bringing to God the fruits of our labors is up to us. W e know from this parable what happens if we fail to do so. We are now the ones charged with the responsibility of producing the fruits of the kingdom. The punishment of those others is no reason to rejoice. With the evidence of what happens to those who do not produce, we should be anxious: anxious enough to get up from our passive and lazy ways and remember that we are tenants here on this earth and what it produces is not ours.
The parable reveals a patient God who owns this property. The parable also reveals a God who will eventually replace any who fail to accept his son. Again this week we have a call to conversion. It is a wake-up call for any who have been living as though they owned this place and behave with the attitude that “It’s all mine”. It is another call to those who are doing nothing with what they have produced from this life for the sake of God’s reign.
A culture of spectators finds this parable strange. They would rather think it is simply about a shift from the people of Israel to the new Christians, or simply another story leading up to the ultimate confrontation between Jesus and his enemies. While it is certainly both of these, it is way more than that for you and for me told again with a firm reminder that God expects something of us. We have been given a great deal that God has carefully prepared. Now God waits; and while waiting God’s Son has come with his call to repentance, conversion, and acceptance of his promise. We have a serious and important responsibility because of our privilege.