Matthew 25:14–30 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Talents
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Sometimes the worst thing about the parables of Jesus is that there is just too much information packed into a seemingly short story. Like last week’s story about the ten virgins. Who would have thought that we as a group would be discussing it for a good thirty minutes after the service? But during that discussion something very interesting was brought up, the idea of why the five wise virgins did not share the oil that they had with the foolish ones. That very question leads up to the parable that Jesus spoke just after that story. I want us to consider the oil as Luther suggested, as faith, or in deeper terms the source of faith, which is the very Spirit of God. That Spirit of God that was breathed into mankind on the sixth day of creation that separated us from all other living creatures, setting us apart to be stewards of all creation. The oil that burns in a lamp is the source or the fuel that allows for the energy of God to enlighten us, to burn within us without destroying us. It is drawn through the wick and the light shines all around, the flame, the oil, and the wick all relate to the triune God working together within a vessel of clay. A simple story that we teach to the youngest of ears, yet so deep it can puzzle the greatest biblical scholars, if they are honest enough to admit it.
But even Jesus knew that the story of the virgins could be twisted in some degree to the point that the true message would not be heard. Those ten virgins in the story waited and fell asleep, throughout history many groups have looked at this story and have said as long as you have the oil everything is good. This has left the church peddling a cheap grace, and a distorted form of discipleship. This is the very type of grace we so often hear about in our contemporary culture. As long as you have said the right prayer or attend the right church you are ok. It does not matter if your actions are right, or even if you are awake, the virgins were asleep. Yet Jesus ended that parable and transitioned into his next with one very important statement, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Keep awake. A lamp is worthless unless it is actively burning, oil is just a potential fuel until the flame ignites it, and a wick is just twisted fiber quickly devoured unless it is saturated. Without the flame, oil, and wick a lamp in the first century is just a fancy piece of clay, no life and no purpose only to broken down returning to the dust from which it was created. If the lamp is worthless asleep what does that say about us?
This is where today’s passage picks up. “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to their ability. Then he went away.” The first thing that is striking when we look at this passage in context with the parable just prior to it, is that this basically says we have a purpose for being here. We are here for a reason, to take care of the master’s property. This has been the role of humanity from the dawn of time, this is why we were created in the image of God and given the breath of life. We are the caretakers of His property. Each one of us has a role to play, it does not matter if you believe in God or not, that is our role and our purpose. Have we ever really thought about that? In our ever present quest to redeem the world for the cause of Christ have we actually boiled our purpose down to the very core of why we exist in the first place?
To each of the servants the master entrusts a portion of his property, entrusting them with only enough that he deems they are able to handle, but I want us to consider just how much he has entrusted each of these servants. A talent is a form of currency, its value is approximately six thousand denarii. The denarii in ancient times was a day’s wage, so one talent is almost worth 16 and a half years of labor. In classical Roman times, the age encompassing the time Jesus taught, the average life expectancy was thirty years. So a talent would basically represent the wages an average individual would expect to earn in their lifetime. Think about that for a moment. You thought that this parable was about money, really it is about life.
Jesus goes on to say that the one that received five talents, enough money for five families, quickly went out and used what he had in trade and made five more talents, as did the man with two talents. The man with one talent went off, dug a hole, and buried the talent he had received. At times it is difficult to think of this story beyond what we perceive as economics, but I would really like us to think outside the traditional box we put this story in and think about it as life. One servant was entrusted with the livelihood of five families, another with the livelihood of two families, and the third was given his livelihood. The master granted them with the portion of property that he thought they could handle, what Jesus is saying is that lives are in our hands.
This is what my theology teacher would refer to as God’s economy. An economic system that was not regulated in currency but in something totally different and much more valuable. Jesus did not come from heaven to be born of a virgin, to live among humanity so that we could have a financial return on our investments, but so that mankind could be redeemed from death to life. God dwelt among mankind to restore humanity. Humanity and life is the economy that God cares about. All of our perceived wealth and wealth creation is worthless in the eyes of God, if what we invest our lives in does not promote life.
The servant that was a steward over the livelihood of five families was able to invest the resources he was given to provide for an additional five, the one with two could provide for an additional two. Suddenly the community grew from eight to fifteen, consider that for a moment. We have each been entrusted with life, we each have at bear minimum one talent to invest into this world. We have our one life. The question is how are we going to use it?
How are we going to invest our lives? When we consider our individual lives thing begin to get more complex. How we invest our lives reflects what we hold as most important. Consider a conversation you may have had with someone you did not know before, what are the things you talked about? You probably exchanged names, more than likely right after names were exchanged the discussion moved toward our employment or what we retired from, and generally the conversation dwindles from there. Our identities all too often are attached to our careers, our identity and our social standing is derived from a twisted economy where value is measured by currency and the ability to amass more currency. That part of our lives are tools that we use in bringing about who we truly are. Currency is a tool, wealth is a tool. It is no different than any other tool when we look the bigger picture. The dollar is like a shovel, how many people have devoted their lives to the savings of shovels? But a shovel is an important tool a shovel when used properly can dig the foundation for a house for someone to live in, it can provide an opportunity to make clean water available to a remote village, and it can give someone a way to feed their family.
I bring this up because the resources, every resource we have available to us is important. They are important only because those resources can be invested into lives. And life is what God is interested in. Are we investing our talents into the lives of our community or are we burying our talents in a hole? Along with that question is another, are we actively participating in the investment or are we just speaking words?
This is not cheap grace or easy discipleship, but an actual cross to bear. So often our words are gilded with scripture but our actions speak something totally different. How often have we heard words spoken saying, “I’m Pro-life” yet have not opened our homes to house a child whose parents’ are unable to support them? How often do we hear that we should help the poor from people that would never open their doors or tables up to someone in need?
We are stewards of the master’s property only stewards. We have been blessed with talents to invest not in ourselves but into the lives of other. What will the master say when he returns? To the ones that expanded the influence of the master he said, “Enter into the joy of your master.” But to the ones that bury their resources and refuse to invest in life, those are wicked and lazy servant who will lose everything. What does it cost to be a disciple of Christ? What is the cost of being a friend of Jesus? It takes belief that the belief goes beyond knowledge and trust, the belief that we will entrust all we have and all we are into our master’s business. It takes us learning that business by participating in the very life that Jesus himself showed us. It takes us investing all that we have to bring light into the darkness, hope to the hopeless, and healing to the broken. To be a disciple of Christ our actions and our words reflect each other, our careers are tools that we use to minister, and our very lives are lived so that His will will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. And that starts with each of us individually turning to him, it continues by us corporately walking together and encouraging each other to walk that journey with Christ, and it returns when we share in the joy of service.
As we reflect on this story that Jesus told and examine our lives during this time of open worship. I ask again, how are we investing our lives?
Psalm 23 (NRSV)
The Divine Shepherd
A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Psalm 106:1–6 (NRSV)
A Confession of Israel’s Sins
1 Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord, or declare all his praise?
3 Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times. Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them; that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory in your heritage.
6 Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
Psalm 106:19–23 (NRSV)
19 They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Philippians 4:1–9 (NRSV)
4 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Matthew 22:1–14 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
There are few things more festive as a marriage. The celebration of marriage is a beautiful mystery that spiritually binds two people together as one, but it also extends bonds and roots of two families, and even communities forming connections that span through time and space. Yes I agree I might just be a little dramatic but marriage is an amazing things. In all of our discussions on divorce, premarital relationships, among others I think we often forget to express just how powerful and amazing marriage can and should be.
Because of this powerful symbolism marriage has been used as an illustration in many different faiths, but probably the most prominent of those illustrations comes through the symbolism of God and Israel. In most cultures marriage was performed as a business contract, or property transfer, but among the Jewish culture marriage was and still is a symbolic representation of the bond that binds the people of Abraham with God. Every aspect of their celebration from the canopy the bride and groom stand under, to the wine and the breaking of the glass point to this relationship between the people and their God. Every element of the ceremony has symbolic and deep theological meaning, but it does not stop with the ceremony. The feast is just as filled with meaning. The feast is where the community is strengthened and they celebrate the joining and hope of extension into the next generation. Often we forget just how powerful a good celebration can be to the spiritual health of a community. This is why Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast, and this is why Jesus uses the illustration of the feast to teach about the kingdom of God.
“The Kingdom of God can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Jesus begins. The Kingdom of God, the nation of Israel, the king and a wedding. It is often said that when the tribes of Jacob left Egypt and were waiting at the foot of the mount Horeb that the tribes were standing under the canopy of God’s presence while Moses received the law or the covenant, under that canopy the people of Israel were united to God. They were married to God, which is why so often the prophets of old speak of the adulterous nation that chases after other gods.
So we have a king giving a banquet, and he sends out his servants to call those invited in, but they would not come. He then sends the servant out another time to tell them that the dinner is ready. Before we think too ill of these people it is important to know that in ancient cultures they did not send out invitations like we do today for many reasons: 1. it would be extremely expensive and 2. Not everyone could read. They would send out servants first to tell them that the preparations were being made, so that those that were invited could prepare for the feast. Then when the animals were slaughtered and cooking they would send out the servants again to announce that the banquet is about to begin. At this time the entire community would come and celebrate. But this is the twist in Jesus’ story, instead of the community coming to the banquet they made light of the celebration, they continued to work on their farms, they went on selling their goods in the market place, and some out right refused violently.
This is where the story gets into the deeper meaning. The king has invited people to his son’s celebration and they refuse. Why, they have to run their farms, take care of their business, and be nasty to others. Jesus is saying the community is broken. The term community is an important one, it is a compound word built with common and unity. There is no unity in this area, they are all just out there doing their own things. They are so involved in their own lives that there is no room to celebrate the uniting of families and the expansion of their nation. This is something that our culture struggles with as well. Our culture is built on individualism, which is not always a bad thing, but it can become sinful if we become too focused on self and neglect those around us. All too often we use our busy schedules to neglect spending time with our families and our friends, and this same busyness often causes us to neglect the ones that need us the most. But Jesus does not find our busy schedules to be a legitimate excuse, in fact he condemns it. Those that reject the king’s invitation were found to be enemies of the state and their cities were burned to the ground.
This says quite a lot about the things we set up as priorities. I myself often struggle in this area, I have worked since I was in Jr. High on the farm, I feel like I must work, when I do not have things in my schedule I can become depressed and feel worthless. But as I walk further down the pathway of life with Christ I have found that it is those times that I invest in others that are the most meaningful. It is the times that I am not at work that the greatest memories are formed. Yet I still struggle in this area, and ask for prayer in this area of my own life.
The king in the story does not let the banquet wait though, he then sends out the servants a third time. This time he sends them out to the main streets or highways, out into the countryside to bring in anyone and everyone to celebrate the joy of his son’s marriage. The servants go out and they bring everyone, the good and the bad. Think about that for a moment. The ones that were considered worthy to be invited first were destroyed and then those considered unworthy were brought in, no strings attached, the good and the bad. Does that make us squirm just a bit? The good and the bad were brought in accepted as they were at that moment.
These people were brought into the new community, a community built around the king and his son, there is no regard for history, or current state. They are just accepted as they are and celebrate. As they come into the banquet the king treats them with the same respect as any invited guest to a wedding. They are each given a wedding robe. This is a custom that we may find odd, but it is very interesting. It is a symbol that all present in the celebration are equal. The wedding robe conceals everything that may be used to express personal pride. Think of it as a sort of uniform. When we wear a uniform, everyone in that uniform is equal, they are seen as employees of a company or as students of a particular school. The idea of a uniform is to provide equality, and to celebrate membership in some common group of people. The wedding robe is a symbol and expression of celebration for the one being married, it is to provide an equalizing factor to everyone around so that all attention can be directed to the ones being celebrated. It is a wonderful symbol.
But the king looks out at the guests and he finds one person that has refused to wear the robe. If everyone else was wearing a robe it would not be hard to spot the one person that was out of uniform. This one person is attracting attention to themselves instead of allowing the attention to be directed to the bride and groom. This is a powerful statement, although the guest is speechless before the king the judgment is swift, the guest is removed from the community.
This is a powerful story. The judgment of those that refuse to participate in the feast of fierce and for the one that is not covered by the wedding robe it is just as harsh. Jesus finishes this parable by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Those are strong words, they scream out at us that our lives are not to be our own, but that every aspect of it should be focused on one thing, to bring honor to the son of the king. How well do we do that? We speak about being clothed in righteousness and being covered by the armor of God, but do we actually allow that to happen in our lives? When people look at us do what do they actually see?
This is the very reason why the early Friends distilled our expressions of faith down to the very simplest form possible, because every aspect of our life should reflect the light of Christ. Every word that we say should be of simple speech not filled with flattery but truth and equity. That our attire should be simple and modest, not to attract attention to ourselves but so that it would not distract from Christ in us. That worship should focus on the very core properties of faith, true words and actions.
Many are called to Christ, but only a very few will choose to live for Christ. We live in a culture that focuses and takes pride in individualism which is contrary to the call of Christ. The call remains, it is given to the good and the bad, the honorable and the disgraced will you come to the banquet of the son, or will you let the things of this distract us from the celebration? The chose is ours, we can come in common unity or we can stay focused on ourselves. All those things that we find so important will be burned to the ground and the memory left to blow like dust in the wind. It is the community that is important, it is the expansion of the kingdom to the next generations, it is the binding of families though time and space that we should celebrate, it is the marriage of God to the people that should be our desire, clothed in the wedding robes that are Jesus. God Himself taking on human form to live among us and for us. Who take our goodness and our failings and wraps himself around us so that all that can be seen is his glory. Let us be that kind of a community. A community built on unity and equality in Christ: loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Jesus with others around us (the good and the bad.)
Open Worship: A time of holy expectancy, where we as Friends commune with God in Prayer and silence expecting to hear His voice and answer His call to speak or act.
Matthew 21:33–46 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
(Mk 12:1–12; Lk 20:9–19)
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. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 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.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 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.”
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’?
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. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Allegory is probably one of my favorite dramatic, and literary forms. Allegory is very similar to a parable or a fable because it is a story that has a message to it, but it is different in many ways because allegory has layers of meaning. Most people are aware of the great allegorical works of C.S. Lewis from reading the Chronicles of Narnia, but there are several other storylines that apply this concept. The great science fiction novel Dune has elements of allegory, as does The Lord of the Rings (although Tolkien would argue with you about that since he claimed he despised allegory. Even some movies are filled with allegory, the movies that make us think and ponder contain plots that are built with allegorical elements, movies like Star Wars though very entertaining can provide lessons for life. There is even a religious movement based on the concepts presented by the Jedi of this series, with over 8000 members in fifteen different branches. Why mention allegory? Because often Jesus spoke in parables, but sometimes he spoke in allegory. The parable of the wicked Tenants is an allegorical story that is layered with meaning, and probably the one parable that challenged the religious leaders to the degree to seek the elimination of the divine rabbi.
The interesting thing about this story is that no matter what era of history we read it in it seems to apply. The ancient Fathers of the Church who interpreted pretty much everything as an allegorical message to Jesus, saw layers that could be applied not only to the contemporaries of Jesus but also to the culture and society of their day, and oddly enough most commentators through the ages have continued to read this story in much of the same way.
Jesus speaks of a landowner that planted a vineyard. The interesting thing about a vineyard is that vineyards are a lasting investment. They take time to establish and time to become profitable. Most varieties of grape vines take a minimum of 3 years before they produce fruit, and often do not produce an abundance of fruit for another few years. So one does not simply decide to plant grapes on their property like they would wheat, they must plan and budget so they will be able to survive for the duration. But once the vines are established, if they are properly maintained, they will survive for generations.
It is not hard to recognize that the vineyard that Jesus speaks about is the Kingdom of God, which during this time frame was mainly thought of as the nation of Israel, but I have mentioned that allegory is layered with meaning and as the concept of the Kingdom of God expands so does the story.
The second thing mention is that the land owner builds a fence around the vineyard. Fences are defensive devices used to keep things in as well as keeping things out. Vineyards are a high risk high profit agricultural investment, not only today but throughout history. People that operate vineyards are some of the most protective people in a community and rightfully so. Grapes are very sensitive and tasty. The fence was to keep a variety of beast from intruding into the vineyard uninvited, a wide variety of animals would do whatever they could to gain a taste from the vine and often do great damage to the plant. But the worst beast of all is humanity. Greed and jealousy have been part of the human condition since Cain and Abel, it has continued to grow since and cultures have attempted to temper this through various means. Things like a fence were not only to keep animals out but also to provide a deterrent to theft. Let us think about the fence some more. Fences in ancient times were not like fences today, wire in ancient times was so difficult and time consuming to produce that it would not be used something such as a fence, but for jewelry. The drawing of metal into wire started in ancient Egypt but would only be done with the softer and more beautiful metals such as gold. It was not until 19th century that the technological advancements in drawing metal into wire became feasible for uses as common as fencing. Ancient fences were basically walls, and the more important or valuable the contents inside the fence were the taller and thicker the walls became. So as we imagine a fenced in vineyard, we should imagine a fortress and not a pasture. We should imagine stone walls or tree trunks driven into the ground fortifying and protecting this land. Since trees were fairly scarce in Israel it would most likely be a stone wall taller than a man, and it would probably be capped with clay embedded with sharpened ceramic shards to provide greater protection from the beasts that seek to destroy.
God has provided a means of protection for those that follow Him. The ancient Laws handed down from Moses are like a wall to protect the followers of God. Things in those law when investigated deeply we can find scientifically what exactly God was protecting the people from. Things like parasites that can be present in foods that are not properly cooked or stored, allergic reactions, even the threat of molds and mildews we hear about so often today were included in the Laws of Leviticus. Also included in those laws are conceptual ideas that benefited the community as a whole laws about protection of people on you property, how one should treat resident aliens, and even debt. Many of these concepts history cannot prove were ever fully followed, but when tried the community grew and justice prevailed for all people within.
Next the owner builds a winepress and a watch tower. These items provide added value. A tower provides early warning to danger as well as greater defense. The wine press provides the ability to add value to the produce of the vineyard. Like the fence this protects the livelihood and wealth of the community.
Then after the landowner builds and establishes this vineyard he went off to another country leaving the land under the care of tenants. When harvest came he would send servants back to the vineyard to collect his portion of the produce. It is difficult for most of us to understand this portion of the story because many of us are not involved in agriculture. But most agricultural land is not owned by those that tend to the crops. Even today’s farmers rent large portions of their farms. When one rents land there is payment, today payment is generally a cash value and the farmer can keep the total crop, or the rent is a fraction of the produce. The story Jesus tells is alludes to a fractional rent concept. The Land owner comes by at harvest time to collect his portion of the crop. The tenants began to think that the owner was asking for too much, so they mistreated the servants, killing those that he sent. To the point that the owner sends his son to collect what is rightfully his. The rebellious tenants then kill the son thinking that they will liberate themselves from the land owner. Jesus then asks, what will happen to these rebellious people? The people first listening to this story tell Jesus that the land own will forcefully remove the tenants and give the land to others that will give what is required.
The allegory of this story is that it is layered. The concept applies to agricultural relationships, as well as cultural and religious concepts. Like I said before the vineyard is the kingdom of God, the fence or the protective force surrounding the kingdom is the law or the church, the wine press and tower are our lives, and the tenants are the leaders within. Think about that for a moment. The lessons that Jesus applied to the leaders of Israel 2000 years ago, are still very relevant today.
God has established this world and has set us up as stewards of his creation. He has given us boundaries to live within and as long as we stay within those boundaries our lives are generally protected. But often times we take matters into our own hands and begin to think we are in control. We rebel. We begin to think that we are the masters of our own destiny. When this happens our lives become more complex and complicated.
Greed and jealously creep in, and we cut corners instead of being honest. This happens at every level, in corporations, and in families. Children think that they deserve cookies and they will take them without asking, greed. Corporations wish to make more profit so they use inferior products that cheat their customers out of money, greed. Those that work begin to think that others are keeping them from success and they demand more, jealousy. Some even go so far as to take matters into their own hands and take what they think they deserve, which is both greed and jealousy.
These are the things that devour culture, these are the things that the very laws of God were given to protect us against yet from the beginning of time we have rebelled against them. Empires have fallen because of the elements behind this story. We no longer hear about the great Assyrian empire outside of history class because they fell due to greed and jealousy. We no longer see Pharaohs sitting over the Kingdoms of the Nile because of greed and jealousy. The sun now sets on the British Empire because of these very same elements.
We are no different. We as a church are no different. We as a culture are in the very same place as so many before us. God has given us a simple life to live. He calls us to love Him with all we are and with everything we have, and to love our neighbors. He can make this call because he is the land owner all we have is really his and he can make those sorts of demands. And when we rebel, he will take what is perceived to be ours and give it to others. Isaiah cried out in his vision from God saying, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
We live among people driven by greed and jealousy, we often times get caught up in the very same things, but God is calling us to something better. He is calling us to become a people that live a different rhythm of life, one that makes it their custom to worship Him that will withdraw to isolated places to spend times in conversations with Him in prayer, and will listen to His words and minister to the needs of those around them. This is the rhythm of life that Jesus himself lived while he was among us, the very son of God sent to call humanity back to God. But often we want to live a life of selfish rebellion. And instead of embracing the life within God’s loving arms we instead want to control everything for our own personal profit. What does that give us?
Today, like every day, we can make that choice to turn from the pathways leading to destruction and begin to journey down the pathway with Christ. Today, like every day, we must choose to be a person and community that will live for God or live for ourselves. We can be rebellious tenants or faithful friends. Today we can begin to build a community that is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with other.
As we enter this time of open worship and holy expectancy, the time of communion with God as Friends, let us each reflect on this multi-layered story, let us put ourselves inside and walk around for a bit, and ask ourselves and our God where we can improve as individuals and as individuals within our community and culture as a whole.