Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To receive your Spirit,
To be led by your Spirit.
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The lectionary guide leads us once more into the Temple. Jesus has been teaching, but when the chief priests and the elders of the people arrive, they begin to interrogate Jesus, demanding, “What authority have you for acting like this? And who gave you this authority?” But Jesus sees the trap they are seeking to set, and instead of answering their questions, raises one of his own, “John’s baptism: where did it come from: heaven or a human source?”
Now these religious leaders are caught in a trap of their own – for they fear the people, and therefore decide not to answer.
Jesus now continues to teach. As a wise rabbi he tells two stories—which these religious leaders finally realize are spoken about them. This week we are drawn into the world of the second story – a parable about a man who owns land, and who planted a vineyard there: fencing it around for protection, digging a winepress in it to press the grapes when they are ready for harvest, and erecting a tower – for further protection from any enemies from the outside. But as Jesus continues to tell this story, we discover that the enemy is on the inside – within the vineyard. It is the tenants to whom he leases the property who are the problem. This is not a new story. Already in the Hebrew scriptures – in the prophet Isaiah and in the book of Psalms included in the readings this week – this story is told and sung.
To discover that the enemy resides within calls for a deeper and courageous discernment, and for wise action. The owner tries numerous times to receive what is rightfully his: the fruit of the grape harvest. But the servants he sends are abused: one is beaten, another is killed, and third is stoned. When he sends more servants, they suffer the same deadly treatment. Suffering is trodden deep into the story. But even so, the landowner decides to send his son: “They will respect him,” he says. Such patience and forbearance here! But as these tenants look out from the watchtower, they see the son coming and make their plans to kill him – with the intent of taking over his inheritance. Now it will be theirs!
As Jesus speaks this parable he shines his light on the condition of the human heart, and especially on the heart and intentions of the Jewish leaders. They deny who truly owns the farm, and take deadly action against his servants who come asking for what belongs to the owner. Caught in the trap of the deeper lie which insists that they are to do whatever it takes to seize ownership of the farm – even if it means killing the son who is the rightful heir – these vine-keepers seize the son, throw him out, and then kill him.
Jesus, of course, is speaking of himself – what will happen to him. But he is also speaking to religious leaders, and to us. The lie in whose web we have been caught since Eden, still blinds and manipulates our thinking, our values, our decisions, and then bears the deadly fruit in what we then do.
This is no pleasant bed-time story. Discerning the spirits – those impulses and drives which move us into action, whether they originate from within the world’s system and culture in which we live, or from within our own being, or even from the domain of evil itself – sometimes leads us into dark and difficult places where we would rather not go. As Jesus said earlier, there are weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:26-43), and like the owner of the farm, we are called to be patient and to endure suffering as we discern and wait for the true Owner of the farm of this world to take action. It is God who finally writes the last chapter of our story, never those who choose live the lie and reject God. The lie rejects the light of who God is and how God comes to us in Jesus. The lie insists that we must grasp all that is within our reach and make it ours—then we will be like God. The lie which took hold in Eden still pulls us into its lure today.
All of creation is a gift – a gift of God for us to enjoy and to treasure. God owns the farm of this world, and of all creation. We are stewards. We own nothing. We hold the gift in reverence, joy, and faithfulness. All is ours to enjoy. We do not need to clutch or kill to get what the lie says is ours. A call to holy poverty here – owning nothing, but having all things! Even as we wait and suffer in this world at this time. Even as we wait as God shines his light within us – exposing and freeing us from the web of the lie.
Loving God, who walks among us,
by your Spirit open our eyes to see and know you,
shine your light into the dark corners of our heart
and loosen our anxious grip on all that keeps us from
resting in your generous gift of Jesus, and of your
kind and holy Spirit who makes your home in us.
For the sake
of your love, your saving purposes in Jesus,
and the sake of all who are
seeking a true home for their soul and being
as we wait for you to write the last chapter
and make all things new.
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
- 9/26 Monday: Matthew 21:33-46
- 9/27 Tuesday: Matthew 21:33-46
- 9/28 Wednesday: Psalm 80:7-15
- 9/29 Thursday: Philippians 3:4b-14
- 9/30 Friday: Isaiah 5:1-7
- 10/1 Saturday: Matthew 21:33-46
- 10/2 Sunday: Matthew 21:33-46