Sunday the Twenty-seventh

If You O Lord, laid bare our guilt, who could endure it? But You are forgiving, God of Israel (Psalm 129: 3-4).

The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel (Isaiah 5:7a and Psalm 80).

“Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. (Matthew 21:43).”

Gospel life flows once again from a vineyard. For three weeks now Jesus’ teaching regarding Kingdom Living has been anchored in vineyard living. A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the work involved in transforming arid, rocky and sandy land into a fruitful vineyard. When completed, the vineyard becomes a place “set-apart” or “different” that has its own rhythm of life to help make a bountiful harvest a reality. We also learned a few weeks ago that a vineyard can be instrumental in the local economy as it is a place of employment. That point is underscored this week as we learn the landowner not only planted a vineyard but also dug a winepress and built a tower. In other words, this is no ordinary vineyard: many operations happen within the hedge of this vineyard not the least of which is employment.

As was the practice in Ancient Near East, landowners might have a few vineyards and lease them to trusted employees to manage in his absence, as reported in this Sunday’s parable. Those employed are exactly that: employees, not the landowner. One might make the case that the workers, driven by a horrific attitude of entitlement, lost their identity as employees and attempted to appropriate to themselves that which was not theirs from the start. In the end, they lost more than they could even imagine.

As Jesus addressed this parable to “the chief priests and the elders of the people” He was reviewing salvation history for them. The workers in the vineyard (and image of the Israelites) rejected all who had been sent in the name of God calling them to repentance, conversion and covenant living. In the end, many would reject Jesus Himself. Sadly this parable has had an unfortunate history in Jewish-Christian relationships. Throughout the centuries, a good number of Christians have held that this parable ‘sanctions’ a view that Israel has lost her identity as The Chosen People and a new people, namely Christians, are the successors to The Chosen People. Such a position misses the point that Jesus addressed this to a limited number of people, “the chief priests and the elders of the people.” Yet more than that, when we lapse into divisive thinking, speaking and acting we become blind to our own areas of weakness and sin. It is so easy and comfortable to point out other people’s shortcomings than to admit our own and work on them.

For Jesus’ followers Kingdom living as He defines and lives it is the only permissible life path. Embracing that path demands changes not only on the levels of thinking, speaking and acting but also a changes of attitude, what Sacred Scripture terms a “change of the heart.” The ongoing attitude adjustment, so vital in being numbered as a disciple of Jesus, frees one from taking on a false identity. When our attitude is that of Christ’s (last Sunday’s proclamation from Philippians) we see and accept ourselves for who we are: disciples, people in need of learning. We do not dictate how the Kingdom is lived, that was the problem with the vineyard employees. We do not take what is not ours, as the vineyard employees did. Kingdom living, a living that is different and set-apart requires a humility of heart that at the opening and closing of each day and all time in between we live dependent on every word from The Word and act immediately on The Word’s prompting.

Father in heaven,
the hand of Your loving kindness
powerfully yet gently guides all the moments of our day.
Go before us in our pilgrimage of life,
anticipate our needs and prevent our falling.
Send Your Spirit to unite us in faith,
that sharing in Your service,
we may rejoice in Your presence.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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