Summary: A sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, series A
21st Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 22] October 5, 2008 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through the power of your Holy Spirit, enable us to hear your Word with open hearts and minds, especially as it comes to us through your Son, Jesus the Christ. Help us to gain an appreciation for your patient love for us, your servants, that we might return to you the fruits of your benevolence. And above all, may we all come to recognize your redeeming grace in Christ’s death and resurrection. This we ask in his holy name. Amen.
Many of the commentaries that I read on our Gospel lesson for this morning seem to indicate that this parable that Jesus told just prior to his death, was viewed by the early church as an indictment against the Jews of Jesus’ day. In fact, as the text itself points out, the chief priests and the Pharisees, who first heard Jesus tell this story, perceived that he had told it as a means of condemning them. They even wanted to arrest Jesus, but for fear of the crowds, who regarded Jesus as a prophet, they refrained from doing so.
However, I am not so convinced that this parable of Jesus, can be so easily interpreted to refer specifically to the priests and Pharisees rejection of Jesus ministry. Oh, I’m sure that the early church, especially as it came to embrace the teachings of Paul, and as faith in Christ spread to the Gentiles, understood it to mean that the kingdom of God was no longer limited to the house of Israel. But I believe that the message of this parable is still relevant for the church of today.
So let’s look at the story. A landowner invested a lot of time, energy and money to build a business, in this case, a vineyard. He purchased and planted the vines. He built a fence around his property to protect the growth of the plants from animals and scavengers. He constructed a winepress, to process the grapes, and no doubt a building to house the casks to hold the precious juice while it fermented. He even built a watchtower, which served not only to protect the vineyard from thieves, but also to house those who cared for his business.
Then he leased his business to others to manage it for him. And when the time came for the owner to receive his dividends for his investment, he sent his servants to collect them. But because of the greed of the managers of his vineyard, they refused to give the owner his just return on his investment. They actually seized the owners servants by the neck, beat them, even killing one.
Again, the owner sent other servants to collect his dividends, more than the first time. And again, the managers of his vineyard refused to give the owner his just return, and treated the owner’s servants the same way they did the first year.
Now we come to the part of the story that just defies common logic. In the third year, the owner of the vineyard decides to send his own son to collect his dividends, thinking that the managers of his vineyard would respect him. But no! The managers of the vineyard contrived among themselves, saying, “This is the heir to our business, let us kill him and we will gain his inheritance.” The managers of the vineyard wanted to take over the business as their own. And they killed the owner’s son.
Of course, as I have retold this story, you may have seen a little similarity to some of the corporate CEO’s, who in this time of economic crisis, have run the companies in which they have been entrusted to manage, into bankruptcy, thinking that the real assets of the business belonged to them. The truth is, there is some similarity in this parable of Jesus to the corporate greed of many of the executives that manage the companies that are owned by investors. And I hope that that changes. But at this point, I am not too optimistic. Greed is a pervasive sin in all of us.
However, the true point of this parable goes much deeper than this. In fact, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that Jesus drew on the story from Isaiah, to relate his message to us. And the chilling words of that passage from the great prophet still ring with a resounding blow to our ears. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”