Matthew 21:33-45 Isaiah 5:1-7
The lectionary has a challenging story for us this week: “The Parable of the Vineyard”, or it’s sometimes called “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.” Jesus tells a story of tenants who are charged with taking care of the master’s vineyard. When the master sends three servants to collect the master’s share of the fruit the tenants beat one servant up, stone another, and kill the third. The master tries again, and again the tenants treat the servants the same way. Finally the master sends his son, thinking that if they kill the son they will receive the master’s inheritance, the tenants kill the son too.
Jesus is very deliberately referencing a poem from the book of Isaiah, as he tells this parable. The language is almost identical – planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, built a watchtower.
In Isaiah, the poem continues to talk about how the vineyard owner expected to harvest good cultivated grapes from the vineyard; after all he had put competent workers to work in the vineyard. He is shocked though when he finds that not delicious cultivated grapes are growing but small, sour wild grapes are growing.
The poem in Isaiah goes on to explain what the metaphor means. People were stealing other people’s houses in order to make their own houses larger. People were finding their joy in strong drinks, wine and beer, rather than in the Lord. The people were being oppressed so that the leaders could have more for themselves.
We’ve been given an awesome responsibility of caring for God’s creation, and giving fruit back to the master. But we don’t produce the fruit that we could, and what we do produce we hang on to tightly. We kill, beat and stone, and think delusional thoughts that if we continue to steal, kill, beat and stone we will finally get what we really want. We forget that it’s not our vineyard to start with. We forget that it was God’s generosity that allows us to be a tenant in his vineyard.
After you kill one servant, it’s hard to believe that things can be any different. The shame and the guilt of killing one servant can lead to thoughts of killing, beating and stoning being the only way to move forward. After you stone one servant, you are a stoner, that’s how you’ll have to keep living your life. Or at least that’s how it seems. After you beat one servant, you must be a violent person, you’ll have to continue beating people up in order to get and keep what you want. At least that’s how it feels.
If we give our fruit to the son, we get a fresh start. We get to continue working in the vineyard and to be blessed by the fruit of the vineyard and the favor of the master.
If we give our fruit to the son, the shame and the guilt of what we’ve done to the previous servants can be forgiven. Our shame can be taken away. Our guilt can be removed from us. We don’t have to be a stoner, a killer, or a beater. We don’t have to be the people who do wrong in order to get what we need. We can be known as children of the master. We can be known as the generous ones, we can be known as the ones who do good work and produce delicious grapes.