Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Proper 22 - Year A
Pentecost 18 
Matthew 21:33-46 

This Sunday’s parable is one of the “hard teachings” within the Gospels.  I’ve seen it used aggressively in congregations where established historic congregations fail to take stock of the changing face of the neighborhood or where older traditional leadership in congregations have failed to reach out to the younger families looking for ministry and welcome in their local church.  It’s often used badly by young clergy.  They practice “ferocious” in the full length mirror at the Rectory as they rehearse the final lines in their sermon.  Like any edged implement it needs to be taken carefully off the shelf.  It has its purpose primarily to heal and improve - not to cut and bash.    

The setting is that of a middle eastern vineyard which forms part of the estate of a non-resident owner.  He has hired it out to tenants whose job it is to till the soil, trim the vines, and effect a reliable harvest.  The master is here a circumlocution for God.  The vineyard is Israel - a chosen nation filled with the promise of bearing the message of God’s desire to reconcile the whole world to himself. 
The vineyard is fruitful and God is at work there.  Vines grow even in the poor and rocky soil - grapes are produced which would be a source of blessing for the surrounding community.  In the parable, though, the controversy centers around this fact: The vineyard is both the master’s vineyard with a particular purpose within the master’s mind and also the place where the tenant farmers live - where they raise their children and put their nameplate on the door.    
It is mine - says the Master.   
It is ours - say the tenants.  
I will not be preaching this Sunday.  I’m off the hook.    A wise preacher would encourage his or her congregation to fulfill their task of cultivating this vineyard aggressively with an eye to the richest possible harvest but to develop, above all, some genuine excitement about sharing the fruits widely.  Such preachers would encourage wistfulness and realism about keeping a light touch upon our possession of the work in the Kingdom.  Ripe grapes or heavy-headed grain late in the season - they are there to be given away, to enrich others, to feed communities and to be something beyond the bounds of our natural communities.  The vineyard may be a source of blessing to us and to our families.  It does not end with us.  If we force the issue, God will find a way around us.