October 4, 2020: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of Matthew 21:33-43
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again, he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
Several years ago, a Presbyterian minister friend introduced me to the writings of the late John Claypool, a former Baptist pastor who later served as an Episcopal priest and theologian. One of his books is entitled, “Parables, Stories Jesus Still Tells.” I was challenged by Claypool’s style of inviting the reader to personally and uniquely experience Jesus’ parables as still relevant and meaningful in the present day and in the present tense. So, accepting this invitation, I considered Jesus’ frequent use of parables and what those mean for me in my life now.
For the last two weeks, the Gospels have included parables about vineyards. And, today, we continue that focus. I have toured vineyards, bought and enjoyed the wine they produced, but the hard work of establishing or laboring or maintaining one is unknown to me. A few years ago, friends of ours who had recently retired, decided to live their dream. They sold their home and purchased a vineyard 500 miles away. Without previous experience in owning and tending a vineyard, they quickly learned of the intense physical labor associated with it, as well as the need to consider all the environmental, legal and financial aspects of maintaining one. The extremes of drought and excessive rain, the perils of California wildfires and parasitic blights challenged them. Their quiet retirement years have been upended by their vineyard responsibility for indeed their role is truly a 24/7 one. They enthusiastically report, however, that they are living their dream!
As Christians, Claypool states that with our baptism, we are called into God’s vineyard to serve as workers tasked with lovingly tending it. The desired outcome of this labor is its yield of good fruit. We are all responsible for continuing Jesus’ mission of announcing and facilitating the coming of the kin(g)dom of God. Jesus has entrusted each one of us with his work. His ministry was one of teaching, healing and table fellowship. So, our work in the vineyard calls us to dedicate our lives to producing good fruit in the manner of ministering as Jesus did. We do that by hearing the Gospel message and then making it a genuine and active part of our lives. And, the fruit that our efforts produce? If we model our lives on Jesus’ life, our lives would reflect the fruits of compassion, mercy, love, generosity, kindness, respect, justice, reconciliation … the fruits are endless. And the location of the vineyards? Wherever we find ourselves in life, we, by virtue of our baptism, are called in this vineyard of God’s and reveal the presence and love of God.
Let us take time this week to reflect on how we are living out our baptism in the vineyard in which we have been called to serve. In what ways are we sharing in the ministry and mission of Jesus, bringing the precious fruits of God’s kin(g)dom to our world? How are we living God’s dream for us and for all people? How are we making it our dream, too?