Proper 22, Year A: Matthew 21:33-46: God’s Vineyard

Vineyards in autumn harvest

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 22, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus again has a parable for his listeners. In this parable, a man owns a vineyard. He prepares it with a wall and a hole for a winepress. He builds a tower on it. Then he leases the land to farmers and leaves town. When it’s time to pick the grapes, he sends servants for his share of the grapes on his own land.

As it turns out, the wicked farmers grab the servants, beating one, and killing two others. So the man sends more servants to the farmers, but the farmers do the same thing. Finally he sends his own son, thinking they will have more respect for his son than his servants.

But the farmers see the son and think that if they kill the son, the vineyard will be theirs, since he is the heir to the vineyard. So they kill the owner’s son as well.

Jesus asks his listeners, “So what will the owner of the vineyard do to these farmers when he comes?”

The leaders and priests say that he will kill the evil men and lease his land to other farmers, who will give him his fair share as promised. 

Then this:

Jesus said to them, “Surely you have read this in the Scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders refused to accept
    became the cornerstone.
The Lord did this,
    and it is wonderful to us.’ 

“So I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you. It will be given to people who do what God wants in his kingdom. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken. And it will crush anyone it falls on.”

Matthew 21: 42-43 (Easy-to-Read Version)

When the leaders heard all this, they knew Jesus was talking about them and they wanted to find a way to arrest him. But they were afraid because the people believed that Jesus was a real prophet.

In this parable, I think the landowner is God and the vineyard is the Kingdom of God. The religious leaders are the faithless and murderous farmers. The servants God sends are the prophets and the son is, of course, Jesus. It’s a simple allegory of the history of God sending prophets who are mistreated, until he sends even his own son. Of course, the leaders do not take it to heart when Jesus basically tells them that they will kill him and then be crushed. They go from this to looking for a way to arrest him. They will not learn. Others (the apostles and all of us who follow them) will experience the Kingdom of God, not these religious leaders who refuse to listen to Jesus.

Proper 21, Year A: Matthew 21:23-32: A Question

Jesus portrait on fresco of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, from 4th century in Mtskheta, Georgia. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 21, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus has returned to Jerusalem. While Jesus is walking in the Temple area, some religious leaders come up to him and ask him what authority he has to do these things (these things meaning his main activities of teaching and healing and forgiving).

As he so often does, Jesus responds to a question with a question. There’s a nice teaching tip for teachers out there–challenge your students with a question in response. It’s what my favorite professor often did.

“I will ask you a question too. If you answer me, then I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Tell me: When John baptized people, did his authority come from God, or was it only from other people?” 

Matthew 21:24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The leaders didn’t know how to respond. They knew if they said that John’s authority was from God, he would ask why they didn’t believe John, but if they claimed it wasn’t from God, the people would be angry because they revered John.

Tricky question, so they said they didn’t know.

So Jesus tells them that he won’t tell them who gave him the authority.

 

Jesus follows this up with another vineyard parable. This one has a vineyard owner with two sons. He tells one to go and work in the vineyard. At first he refuses to go work, but later he goes. Then he tells his other son to go and work in the vineyard. That son says he will go work, but he doesn’t go. Jesus asks which of the sons obeyed their father. The religious leaders responded that it was the first son.

Then Jesus slams him with some hard truth. (This is the kind of story that really makes me love Jesus.)

“The truth is, you are worse than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In fact, they will enter God’s kingdom before you enter. John came showing you the right way to live, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. You saw that happening, but you would not change. You still refused to believe him.” 

Matthew 20: 31b-32 (Easy-to-Read Version)

 

Jesus is comparing them to the outcasts of their society. They think they are the most correct and religious, but they are actually worse than the worst. In fact, those they think are the worst are closer to God than they are, because they believed in John and repented, while the leaders would not change.
How is this relevant to us today? Don’t be caught up in your religious trappings and believing your way is the best way. Be open with your heart and open to change from God.

Proper 20, Year A: Matthew 20:1-16: The Last First

Vineyards on a hill overlooking the Mosel river

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 20, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this passage, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hires people to work in his vineyard.

He hires some first thing in the morning, some more around lunchtime, and more in the late afternoon. Then when the day is done, he has them line up to be paid, starting with those hired last. He ends up paying them all the same amount, even those who had only worked a short time.  It should come as no surprise that those who started first thing in the morning complained that they were paid no more than those who worked only an hour. But the landowner insists he is being fair–he paid them exactly what he had offered them when he hired them in the morning. He says he can do what he wants with his money and they shouldn’t be jealous because of his generosity.

Jesus ends by saying, “So those who are last now will be first in the future. And those who are first now will be last in the future.”

This story seems pretty easy to understand. God’s grace extends to those who do very little to “earn” it (that’s why it’s grace) as well as to those who work day and night to serve him. The true follower of Christ does not seek to be first but serves in love. The grumpy first-comers probably represent the religious leaders who opposed Jesus and didn’t understand grace. They promoted themselves and their own goodness, failing to comprehend the love of God extending to the lowest people.

May we spend our days serving and not seeking to be first.