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The Gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost — with food for thought on the power of parables and following the rejected stone … Gnaw away!

Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a property owner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, installed a winepress and erected a tower. Then the owner leased it out to tenant farmers and went on a journey.

“When vintage time arrived, the owner sent aides to the tenants to divide the shares of the grapes. The tenants responded by seizing the aides. They beat one, killed another and stoned a third. A second time the owner sent even more aides than before, but they treated them the same way. Finally, the owner sent the family heir to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my heir.’

“When the vine growers saw the heir, they said to one another, ‘Here’s the one who stands in the way of our having everything. With a single act of murder, we could seize the inheritance. With that, they grabbed and killed the heir outside the vineyard. What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to those tenants?’

“They replied, ‘The owner will bring that wicked crowd to a horrible death and lease the vineyard out to others who will see to it that there are grapes for the proprietor at vintage time.’”

Jesus said to them, “Did you ever read in the scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone;
it was our God’s doing
and we find it marvelous to behold’?

“’That’s why I tell you that the kin-dom of God will be taken from you and given to people who will bear its fruit. Those who fall on this stone will be dashed to pieces and those on whom it falls will be smashed. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard these parables, they realized that Jesus was speaking about them. Although they sought to arrest him, they feared the crowds who regarded Jesus as a prophet.”

The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?

This is the second of two parables about vineyards that Jesus addresses to the chief priests and the elders in the Temple. They came to question his authority in the wake of Jesus claiming both the authority of Ruler and High
Priest through his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple. The vineyard parable we heard last week invites them to see how they have merely been mouthing the words of God but not living them .. that by their action (and inaction) they exclude themselves from the kin-dom — a kin-dom that Jesus embodies.

This second parable builds on the first and makes explicit Jesus’ claim of authority. He quotes two pieces of scripture … Psalm 118 (a psalm of deliverance in battle) and Daniel 2 (Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the
crushing of the kingdoms of the earth and the rising of the kingdom of God) … that any Jew would recognize as claiming the role of Messiah for himself, and at the same time predicting what for faithful Jews would be unthinkable — that the Messiah would come and they would reject him.

A few things to chew on:

Parables are more invitation than doctrine. The point of the parable of the wicked tenants isn’t to label some people as good and others as evil … to establish an “in group” and an “out group” … but to invite all of us to consider where we fit in the parable. The parable is a clear claim by Jesus that he is the Messiah, that the long-awaited kin-dom of God is coming into being through him. But the parable itself does not exalt and condemn. It invites the listener to look at themselves and say “who am I?” Do I accept Jesus or do I reject Jesus? Everyone who hears the parable has the power of that choice … and the parable is clear that the choice has consequences. In that way, we are no different than the chief priests and elders who heard it 2,000 years ago. Who are we in this parable? What choice do we make?

Some have tried to read this parable as a rejection of Israel as God’s chosen people and a casting of the Jews into the outer darkness. But that’s not what is going on here. The parable invites us into a much more expansive understanding of God’s grace. Divine favor, transformation, abundant life — this promise is no longer limited to one ethnic group. The promise is open to everyone — the criteria now is not who bore you but do you live in a way that shows the “fruits of the kingdom.” It’s not enough just to be a child of Abraham (remember Matthew 3:9 – “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”) what matters is how you live your life, the choices you make.

Membership in the kin-dom will be “given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” — those who, like the tax collectors and prostitutes we heard about last week, are willing to have their lives changed and not just give lip service to God in their lives.

Try This:

This parable and the ones surrounding it are Jesus’ invitation to us to “bear fruit.” It’s one of those images that stands the test of time. What  can we produce that is juicy and delicious and nutritious — that gives joy and sustenance to the world. Where are we by our being and doing an example of what is the best of being alive and part of God’s creation.

Think of how you feel when you bite into a piece of really juicy fruit. Feel the juice spilling over your chin and the tartness pecking at the corners of your mouth. It’s refreshing and wonderful. It makes you feel alive.

Each day this week, think of one thing you can do to give someone a taste of joy like that. I’m not talking about curing cancer or solving world hunger … but I’m also not talking about just not cutting someone off in traffic either. What is one thing you can do that represents that best you can be — something that’s even hard, but that you can do with confidence because you believe you are the beloved child of God that God knows you are. Then at the end of each day, look back, notice how it went and ask yourself “what am I learning?”

Write This:

Jesus says that “the kin-dom of God will be taken from you and given to people who will bear its fruit.” What does that mean? Look at what God has given you – everything that is a part of your life. This week, journal about how you might use even some of what seems like some of the most insignificant pieces of it to build God’s beloved community of justice and love.

Following the Rejected Stone

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone;
it was our God’s doing
and we find it marvelous to behold

I woke up this morning to the news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The news anchor called it “the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history,” to which in my mind I added “until a bigger one happens. Which, of course, it will.”

That’s how I reacted to this awful news. Yes, deep sadness over the tragedy, but also a deep temptation to hopelessness, cynicism and anger.

Another mass shooting. Which will be followed by billions of #PrayForLasVegas social media posts and local prayer vigils. Which will be followed by demands for gun control. Followed by a NRA rally in the city, ridiculous claims from gun rights activists that this isn’t about guns, and the gun lobby using the whole thing to gin up fear that “this time they’re going to take your guns,” which will spike gun sales. Followed by impassioned speeches on the floor of Congress and from preacher’s pulpits to never again allow this to happen. Followed by … nothing changing.

Followed by … it happening again.

We thought Sandy Hook – the slaughter of children – would wake us up. But no.

We thought Pulse – the previous worst mass shooting in US history – would make us change things. No again.

So why should we go through it all again? Why should we say the prayers and call our Representatives and scream and yell when the only difference it will make is in the rising stock prices of the gun manufacturers?

Why should we bother? It just hurts too much. And for what?

And so, I went to this Sunday’s Gospel, hoping for hope. Hoping for something that would help me believe that God’s reign of justice and peace and even simple sanity would win out. And I get this story of violence upon violence upon violence. The vine growers kill the aides, then more aides, then the heir. Then the owner kills the tenants. People falling on stones and stones falling on people. Slaughter everywhere.

This wasn’t helping.

And then two things hit me. Two reminders.

The first is that violence has been around for a long, long, long time. We have gotten exceedingly good and effective at it, but we have been killing one another as long as there have been people walking the earth. It’s senseless and tragic and awful … and we’ve not been able to stop it yet.

Now this could lead me even more deeply into hopelessness, but then I notice this. I notice the scripture Jesus quotes:

‘The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone;
it was our God’s doing
and we find it marvelous to behold’?

This also makes no sense. One of the stupidest things you can do if you are a builder is to make a rejected stone your cornerstone. It is a recipe for a building falling to rubble and yet Jesus says “it was God’s doing” and “we find it marvelous to behold!”

We don’t say the prayers and call our representatives and denounce the violence and the unconscionable greed and moral bankruptcy of the gun lobby because we believe that is what will make this all stop. We do it because we trust in a God who stands with the rejected, those who live in the crosshairs and those who mourn the dead … and who bids us, if we are not already, to stand with and as those who are rejected, too.

I look inside and I realize my temptation to hopelessness brings with it a temptation to throw up my hands and look away. And yet that is the one thing Jesus would never, ever, ever do.

And so, I must not look away. I must not succumb to hopelessness. I need to feel the tragedy and the suffering of those who have died and those who have been left. My heart needs to break. My blood needs to boil. I need to meet Jesus at the locus of the worst of what we as human beings can do to one another and feel the love of God in that heart of despair. Ask Christ to help me be the love of God in that heart of despair.

We must join with Christ in shouting at the violence “Stop! Stop! Stop! It is enough!” not because we believe the shouting will change anything, but because Christ shows us the deepest meaning life has is in being a part of that heavenly chorus that refuses to let hate win, that refuses to let death have the last word, that testifies with every last breath that no matter what the odds or the history, we will never stop standing with one another in love.
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Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings

The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday – just click here.

Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior;  who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Want to read more?
The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.

Gnaw On This is a weekly publication by Mike Kinman, the Rector of All Saints Church.

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