St Matthew 21: 33 – 46 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Reflection This parable, coming a few chapters before Matthew’s recording of Jesus’s death, tells of the coming events. It does this in the context of Israel’s and Judah’s history and the response, particularly of those with authority, to the prophets of God as well as Jesus, son of God. It again highlights the difficult relationship between Jesus and the religious leaders, and it leaves us with no doubt why the Gospel writer goes to great lengths to point out what would seem to be a great hatred of Jesus among them.
Yet, although this is all part of the Gospel’s narrative about who Jesus is and what Jesus’s purpose was in the world, this parable also offers a cautionary tale for the Church and particularly those that lead it. Within our tradition, we have that language of call when it comes to leadership. We have that sense that God calls us to a place where we are to do God’s work tending a community. We take on that responsibility humbly, sometimes with trepidation, but always, we believe, in the strength of God’s spirit. Then that community flourishes, it bears more fruit than we might have even dreamed of. We celebrate. We make a name for ourselves in local church circles, denominational circles, maybe even further afield. And finally, Reform comes knocking and asks, “to whom do you give the credit for this success?”
The answer, of course, is simple. It is God. But one has to wonder if we might not put others and ourselves first. Human nature is such that we all desire a little limelight and accolade at times. We want a share of the success and not to just hand it over. Yet, when we say ‘yes’ to God’s call to tend God’s land, we not only have to accept the trials of this but not buckle at the temptation to reap the rewards which are God’s alone.
Prayer Gracious God, you call us to fertile land, to land that will bear fruit in your name and as you desire. You ask of us to tend and care for it, may we do so in humble service giving you all the glory in Jesus’ name. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Elaine Colechin, Minister, St Mark’s United Church, Greenwich and Bromley United Reformed Church.