Emmitsburg Council of Churches


The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 21:33-46 Glory to you O Lord

21:33 "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 21:34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 21:35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 21:36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 21:37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance." 21:39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 21:40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" 21:41 They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." 21:42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? 21:43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 21:44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." 21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 21:46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. This is the Gospel of the Lord . . .

Praise to you O Christ . . .

God awaits the harvest of his vineyard

Today we conclude the final Vineyard parable that Jesus shares with his audience. In all honesty, this is not one of my favorite parables, especially because it seems Jesus has relayed an increasingly violent account of his argumentation with the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Nevertheless, the theme of God's dealings with his people has yet a few more ideas for us to examine.

One of these ideas is that the Owner of the Vineyard built the watchtower in the midst of the vineyard . . . presumably so that a guard could be posted in order to protect against outside intruders. However, the real danger came from within the vineyard as the workers plotted amongst themselves in order to overthrow the landowner and his family.

We should also note at this point in our discussion that the land owner is absent from the immediate context of the story. He is an "absentee land owner."

Let us return to some thoughts about that watchtower, presumable erected to keep "outside enemies" from invading the vineyard and stealing the fruit. In the church, as we all know . . . it can be the same situation. In our imperfection, sometimes we play the role as gatekeepers," even this description is a nicer sounding word than could be used . . . ok, guards?? Yes, sometimes we are more apt to guard our congregation from would be new members of questionable appearance, accent or other characteristics that we find discomforting or just plain different from the norm for our church . . . and so we tend to ward these visitors off. Make no mistake about it, if you play gatekeeper, people won't come back!

However, the truth is, we seldom suffer much from outside attacks. In fact, I would dare to say that outside attacks can make us stronger! If someone criticizes the Christian Church or our particular congregation . . . we quickly rise to the defense of our faith and of our church. We are willing to examine someone's Outside Critique of our ministry and we work together to remedy whatever problem is pointed out to us. This can be a healthy exercise and a form of encouraging us to know exactly in what and in whom we place our trust.

But when an attack is formed from "within the vineyard" or, when discord is raised within the body of the church . . . here is a far more difficult thing to cure and potentially destructive force.

In the story that Jesus tells, it is the Tenant Farmers of the vineyard who devise a plan to overthrow the Land Owner and essentially take the land or fruit production for themselves. We could say that they have formed a kind of confederacy or more bluntly – a rebellion against the authority to whom they should have been loyal to.

Now there are times when there can be legitimate reasons to rebel against authority. For example, when one is being exploited unfairly or unjustly. Indeed, in former days, the feudal system in western Europe kept the peasant peoples ignorant and poor–just so that they could not and would not rise up and throw off the yoke of bondage to their lords or tribal leaders of the land. However, if a lord becomes too exploitative of his subjects – (EVERYONE HAS THEIR BREAKING POINT!) the simpletons are going to rise up and rebel or at least leave his domain.

Our own U.S. History teaches that there is a limit to how much a person (or people) can take, before they are going to rebel against being told what to do, or how much to pay in taxes or tariffs.

The basis for people organizing and becoming a political body begins at the most basic level when human rights and issues of quality of living are raised to the forefront. Perhaps these are the ideals of a Democracy, when a group of people decide that their common and most basic interests are not being met and they band together to form a body that may fairly and equally represent their interests. This can be a force for good, or a force for evil – as we see in Jesus' parable--teaching tool.

What is more difficult for the Pharisees and Authorities (those whom Jesus was addressing this story to) was that in their case, they did not have God's good purposes in mind. Instead of being a force for justice and positive social change, by the outcomes of Jesus' story, it appears that the tenants are in the wrong. Although we do not know what kind of percentage of the crop that the landowner was requiring of his tenants. Presumably, the terms of their living in or around the vineyard had been set. And more clearly, by Jesus' telling of the story, these people decided to not honor nor respect the agreement with the landowner in any way, shape of form.

Theirs was open rebellion. It was as though, like the wild grapes from the Isaiah passage we heard earlier this morning, these people had a bitterness to them. They became a kind of bad seed or wild vine that did not wish to honor the expected terms of their living in the vineyard. Theirs was open rebellion formed from a root of bitterness formed from within.

Interestingly, the owner of the vineyard had considered the many aspects of danger to his planting from outside sources. The watchtower, the walls, and provisions to keep out wild animals would protect the grape vines and the harvest. But he had not necessarily anticipated problems stemming from within. Instead, the rejection of the terms for living within the vineyard's walls became the downfall for the people described in this story. They formulated their own ideas about what was best for them. And those ideas led to unjust actions against the landowner – even to murdering the Landowner's Son.

Of course, this is where Jesus wants to take us. He wants us to know that he is speaking of himself and God the Father's intentions regarding humanities' place in the vineyard of the world or Life.

Jesus wants for his audience to know that God has made provisions for us to live within a planned out vineyard. Like the protective walls and the watchtower, the Law was given for us to know how to live for God and how to live with one another. But when we rebel against God's ways, and take matters into our own hands, then there is going to be chaos and struggle and strife.

And yet, as Christ came into the world --So God does not come to destroy us, but to save us and to re-teach us the way in which we should live. God seeks to re-educate us about who God is. He is not the God of vengeance and wrath as we have seen depicted in so many judgmental stories, but God is love. God is a giver of grace and mercy.

Furthermore, God is a risk taker. God sends himself to us in the person of his one and only Son, Jesus. He comes to us as one gentle baby born of Mary. God does not come with an army, nor a holocaust of violence. But God sends his Son into the world to teach us and to show us by example how we ought to love God and live with one another. This is the essence of the Gospel Story. That God is Patient , God is Kind, God is slow to anger and abounding with Steadfast Love.

And this patient, kind and loving God awaits the harvest of his vineyard. How will we grow under such a nurturing hand. Will we bear fruit of love having been fertilized and cultivated with such graceful care. Or will we reject this nurture and rebel?? With all patience God waits for Fruit to be born in us.

Come let us examine our hearts and respond to this loving God.


Read more writings of Pastor Jon