33 "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 watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, "They will respect my son.' 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.' 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" 41 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." 42 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'? 43 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. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
In Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” the author goes to speak with farmers large and small around the country. What does America’s food production look like these days? What did it used to look like? What could it look like? I’ll never forget one interview with Joel Salatin. He’s a farmer with a variety of creatures (pigs, cows, chicken, and sheep) that produce meat, eggs, milk, and wool. He’s got the traditional American farmer look – the worn sloppy straw hat, suspenders, and dirty jeans. But he doesn’t consider himself an animal farmer. No, he says, “I’m actually a grass farmer.” That’s the source, that’s what this is all really about.
It got me thinking about God and God’s creation. We have all these beautiful agricultural parables and metaphors… We talk about God as the master of the vineyard and tend to picture the fruit, the grapes and the vines. But what does it mean that God tends not only the plants, the people, but the dirt from which it grows? The gritty muddy messy stuff that gets under our fingernails? How do we imagine God as the good soil that, uncorrupted, will nurture life for not just a season but for generations?
All that we have, as deeply attached to it as we may be, is not our own but belongs to God – it’s a gracious gift. The farther removed we are from that initial gift, the more we forget. We forget that all humanity is created and endowed together, that we are deeply connected even when separated by oceans of water or economics. That’s why we travel to and from our companions across the world, why we meet up in Peru to share our lives and our faith together and to be REMINDED.
Over time, we inevitably forget the generosity that birthed us and we drift away from that Spirit and from each other. We forget our connected-ness, our eternal-ness and we turn to isolation and immediacy. Our vision grows narrow and all we see is the here and now of ourselves. A vineyard is still an apt metaphor as we see the implications of ego in our ecology. We see the land, the dirt to be only as valuable as the dollars it makes for us in a season, and so we pay no mind to its needs across generations and strip it of enduring nutrients until it is good for nothing.
We drift toward the self, believing more and more strongly that we have earn it all on our own, that we deserve it as if there is someone else who does not. We become accustomed to privilege. We resort to violence to maintain it, not only that but our vision becomes warped enough to believe that our violence toward others is justified. What would have happened if the tenants had access to military style automatic weapons?
Jesus’s parable isn’t entirely original. God reminds the hearers of words they’ve given before. Jesus picks up where the prophet Isaiah left off and turns the story ever so slightly on its side.
5Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
It’s a love song, but love sometimes means heartbreak. What happens when the vineyard is broken? When its life and its world are not what was hoped for? When Evil takes it over? When Sin is seen and experienced in real flesh and blood bodies?
After all that we’ve seen and experienced, I think I can’t handle one thing more. And then…another trauma, another headline. It makes me want to take a match to the vineyard and just burn the whole thing down, walk away and never look back. ….And that’s one of the many reasons I’m not God. God continues where I can not. If I saw ( and many around us have seen) everything I’ve invested in and worked so hard to cultivate…disrespected and ruined…it would wreck me. Even though I am safe today, I am still wrecked by the struggle that surrounds me. Whether we are directly or indirectly affected by tragedy, it takes a very real toll on us. My body is physical exhausted, my soul is weary from compassion fatigue. I just want to lie on the couch and shut my eyes…or throw something…or both, or nothing…
God continues where I can not. God looks at the once lush vineyard which has been reduced to nothing but a vast expanse of dry dust…and does not hesitate to return to the work of creation. When I would give up, God musters the strength to start anew, to stare death in the face and demand life. We forget. We forget our connected-ness - our shared humanity, the interwoven nature of our lives in creation. We forget ourselves. We forget the expansive generosity that birthed us all. We forget. But God remembers and we are reminded. The Gospel reminds us – not of a world that could be, but the world that will be, the reality that is already among us, shining light into dark places.
At times we shut our eyes to the light, we either can’t see it or we don’t want to. We reject it. But the dawn of a new creation comes anyway. It is not only probable, it is inevitable.
The same prophet Isaiah reminds us of the Word of hope:
“Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!” (Isa 2:3-5)
Jesus speaks of a vineyard so fruitful and so generous that no one will ever be thirsty again.
The witness of Peter proclaims a temple made not of stone but of living things, constructed not of something other, but of us.
“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built*into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter2:4-5)
Revelation promises and reveals a world where there is no more hurt, only hope…
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home* of God is among mortals.
He will dwell* with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;*
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ (Rev 21:3-5)
We gather together, in these holy places as a holy people to be reminded again and again of the wideness and wildness of God’s mercy - to see it in each other’s faces, to hear it in the Word, to experience it in the meal, to practice it in our embodied response. May these gifts grant us healing, wholeness, and courage. Amen.