In today’s gospel, we see Jesus—once again—sharing a parable in an attempt to show the Pharisees the error of their ways. Today, we are told the familiar story of the vineyard owner sending a series of servants to his tenants to “get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard”—only to have the tenants reject, beat, and kill those servants. The owner is no other than God and the tenants are the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
I don’t know about you, but I enjoy those moments when Jesus calls the leaders to task. It always gives me a sense of justice, of vindication, of delight in Jesus standing up for the “rest of us.”
But, you know, as I reflected on today’s message, I kept hearing—“Think about it a bit more, go a bit deeper. See if there’s not more to the story.” Ugh! Do I have to? I know that “voice” –the Spirit is prompting me, nudging me to see something else. And, more often than not, that “something else” relates to me too—not only the “Pharisees.”
So, what “else” do I see?
Hmmm…I see a vineyard owner who eventually makes it very clear that tenants do not control the vineyard. They may think that they do; but, ultimately, the tenants can be replaced. Yes, Jesus is clearly telling the religious leaders, the Pharisees, that despite their sense that they “are” the church—that they “own” the church—they do not. They do not know the heart of God; they instead rebel “in the name of God.” Thus, they can be replaced. But, God’s church will remain.
Yet, I also see a vineyard owner whose actions toward the rebellious tenants certainly don’t abide by human expectations. When the tenants rebel, the owner keeps reaching out—repeatedly sending emissaries, rather than swat teams, troops, or lawyers. And, the last emissary is the owner’s heir, who rather than being respected is murdered. Imagine such a response by the property owners of today? Surely, that is not a normal response to rebellion and property destruction! Yet, it is God’s response—a response almost unfathomable from a human perspective—to keep reaching out to God’s people, even in the face of continual disregard and rejection. Yes, the Pharisees can be replaced, but their replacement never means they were not loved.
Oh, yes, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day. But, the story that he tells is one that speaks to any of us who begin to believe that we know the right way, the only way. To do so is to be like the Pharisees, deluded by our own human propensities and understandings. In some ways, it is precisely our humanity that makes it likely that we will think that way. Even so, even in the frailty of our humanity, God is still there for us—waiting eagerly to embrace us in love. What an incredible reality that is! Thanks be to God!!
By S. Scritchfield