Wednesday, 28 September 2011

What will he do?

This week's wrestling is with the parable of the tenants in the vineyard:
Matthew 21:33-46.

The other lectionary readings help us to remember that in the Hebrew Scriptures 'the vineyard' was God's Promised land, inhabited by God's chosen people. I think we have to beware an anti-semitic reading of this that says 'God throws out the Jews and put new 'tenants' in his vineyard: us!

So what do we learn about this owner of the vineyard? He is persistent - almost to the point of stupidity. The first slaves are beaten, killed and stoned. So what does he do?
Sends more! - and they are 'treated in the same way'.
Isn't THIS the point at which we expect the owner to bring in the bailiffs & clear the place out & either put in new tenants or sell & get out of wine-production altogether.
But no, our persistent/foolish owner sends his son, saying 'they will respect my son'. But it comes as no surprise to find that these lawless tenants kill him too.
Now what will he do?
What he should have done in the first place - sort them out. The owner is far more patient than we might expect, but in the end he wants his vineyard to produce wine.

So, says Jesus the kingdom of heaven will be given to those who produce the fruits of the kingdom.

Matthew puts this parable at the end of a very varied string of events, all recorded in Chapter 21.
First Jesus enters Jerusalem and throws the money-changers out of the temple.
Then he curses the fig tree because it is not producing fruit.
Then Jesus' authority is questioned by the chief priests and elders of the people.
Then Jesus tells 2 parables - first the one about the sons who are asked to work by their father and say yes & no, and then this one of the tenants.

Throughout these events, which of course are in the lead up to a lot of resistance to Jesus, and finally to his arrest and death, there seems to be recurrent themes about bearing fruit, being part of the life of the kingdom, and doing what is required.
Jesus tells this parable against a background of questions about who is and who is not a part of the kingdom, who is on God's side, who is living the right way in the sight of God.

And Jesus is clear in the parable - God is endlessly patient, he is not going to give up on people if they fall at the first hurdle in following Jesus. Yet God is looking for a harvest for results, for the fruits of the kingdom, for people who seek God's will and do it.
There may be wrestling ad difficulty - there will even be persecution and death - but God wants us to be people of faithful fruitfulness, who never lose sight of God's kingdom.

No comments: