For the third Sunday in a row, we’re in the vineyard.
Today’s reading from Isaiah makes it pretty clear that the vineyard is an image for Israel, but I’d also invite you to think of it as being all of creation, the world we live in, work in, party in, the world we are responsible for...and the world that we don’t own.
When looking at a parable like today’s gospel, Fr Jerome makes the very good point that we should look at the part that doesn’t make sense.
We’ll do that, but there is another question about parables that is important here. Who is Jesus talking to? This week and last week the gospel tells us that Jesus is talking to the chief priests and the elders. He is talking to those who hold power, and he is confronting them.
Last week he confronted them with their hypocrisy, that they would claim to obey the Lord, and then turn their backs on their duty.
Today he confronts them with their blindness and stupidity. Think about the story. In what universe do a pack of murderers who kill the son, the rightful heir to the property then inherit the property? That’s the part that doesn’t make sense in this parable.
It doesn’t make sense, unless you start to consider how often those in power succumb to arrogance, and do stupid things that end up destroying them.
We’ll all have our own opinions about the way governments at home and abroad have handled the pandemic, about how arrogance has been present and has produced foolish actions which achieve the opposite of what those in power intended. As someone who reads history, I think of examples like Hitler’s decisions to invade Russia during WW2, and then to declare war on the USA. Stupid decisions that resulted, thank God, in the defeat of Nazism.
Isaiah’s prophecy is also addressed to those in power, and points out the results of behaving without justice, of oppressing the powerless. The vineyard will be ruined.
Jesus tells those in power that if they continue to ignore the rights of the Lord of the vineyard, they will come to a wretched end. He reminds those in power, the chief priests and elders, that they don’t own the vineyard. They may think they can control the vineyard, their world, by killing the son, but history will prove them wrong when, a generation after the crucifixion, Jerusalem is destroyed.
There are many lessons for us in these readings.
Have we believed that we own the vineyard, that we control this world, God’s creation?
Yes, if we look around the world it is fair to say that many of us in Australia are still prosperous, still people of power. How tempting to believe that we are in control!
The pandemic has shown us how fragile our power, our control, is.
We do not know what God is doing at the moment. The pandemic has not gone away. There have been many deaths, many people seriously ill, people losing their jobs. Pope Francis said back in March that God is not judging us, but rather inviting us to judge what is important to us. The pandemic – an evil thing in itself – has made us reflect more on what life is about. It has confronted us with the reality of death, which has become hidden and sanitised in society.
This is the time for us ask God to work in us, to heal us and set us free, so our communities become real communities of loving practical and spiritual support in tough times. Let’s ask God to “guard our hearts and our thoughts” rather than being dragged off into negativity or escapism. Let’s pray to delight in everything “good and pure”, however small or everyday.
4 Oct 2020
Deacon Jim Curtain