Isaiah 5: 1-7; Philippians 4: 6-9; Matthew 21: 33-43
Finally, some rain. When I was out walking this week it felt more like walking through a desert it’s been so warm and extremely dry. You know, more than anything, nature is used in the bible to often mirror to people what’s going on with us. There’s been such a violent streak in weather the past month or so but also with us. It’s as if nature is groaning within, letting us know we have a problem. Now when I say it has something to mirror to us I don’t mean it in a televangelist kind of way, like Pat Robertson who again went off these weeks not only about weather but about the killings in Las Vegas. It’s a distorted image of God to think that God somehow wants to smite us, which should make us question whether it’s God at all. We do enough smiting ourselves.
So if there’s anything that the tenants of the vineyard do wrong it’s that they cut themselves off, distance themselves from the land. They begin to think that it’s theirs and they are somehow entitled to it, have the right to it, know better than the landowner, possess and control it. They no longer need the landowner they can do it quite fine themselves, so they think. They no longer even recognize the landowner in the slaves that are sent or for that matter, the son, who come in the landowner’s image and likeness. They don’t see it necessary for themselves so they certainly won’t in the others. Cutting themselves off from the land not only distances themselves in that way, they separate themselves from the landowner themselves. It’s about them. It’s about what they want. And once the son is sent they believe the landowner is out of the picture all together and they finally have the power they want to possess.
Now they’d all be familiar with the story Jesus tells because it’s pretty much given word for word from the reading from Isaiah today. Everything is going great for Israel, so they think, until it’s not. They too separate themselves from the land, each other, and their God, the Creator, but they aren’t aware of it until it’s time for harvesting only to find wild grapes. It would be no surprise to the audience Jesus has today that the story wasn’t going to turn out in their favor. If you sow wild grapes, take advantage of the land and try to possess it, no longer seeing it as a gift, then expect wild grapes, expect violence, expect separation and war. We reap what we sow and if we sow violence and hate, then like the Pharisees and elders of the people voice in today’s gospel, it will lead to a wretched death. They abandon each other, the land, and well, quite honestly, if we go that far then most likely we’ll abandon the Creator, the landowner as well. It’s inevitable.
Paul too finds himself separated from the community but not by choice. He’s imprisoned but not even the walls of prison are going to cut him off from his source of life. Paul speaks of a very different way of life, one rooted in peace and free of anxiety, a life free of violence. Despite his own difficulties at this point, Paul continues to return to the source of life, the landowner per se, who allows him to persevere and model a different way of life. For Paul, it’s all about gift. It’s not about possessing or owning, nor about rights and entitlement. For Paul all is gift and it shines through in this very poetic verse we hear today from him. He sees not only his own life but the life of others, the land, and all he has been given as gift and he a mere steward. It’s a life that doesn’t forget that he’s connected to someone bigger than himself and he keeps returning to be nourished by the Creator but even as he sees the violence that has ensued against him and humanity in his own time and from his own hands.
Nature has a great deal to teach us and for three weeks now we have found ourselves wandering through the vineyard with Jesus, often with some harsh words. If we fail as tenants to the land and each other, forgetting our truest identity, it will all be taken away and it will feel like a horrific death and letting go, even feeling violent at times. Violence just seems to be a part of who we are and what we’re capable of in this life. We’ve seen that violent streak in nature, reminding us of hearts that hurt and that have become arid. We’ve allowed ourselves to be separated not only from this Earth but from each other, often feeling no need for the landowner anymore. We can do it ourselves, thank you. But we also see what happens when we do. Now more than ever we need the landowner and to remain closely to the Creator to soften our hurting hearts so that they no longer resort to violence, but rather to be filled with the heart of the Creator, one of love, peace, compassion, and reconciliation for all of God’s creation.