Good tenants

A sermon for October 4, 2020. The congregation is celebrating its second monthly pandemic-era Communion service outdoors on a cool October morning. The President of the United States is in hospital with COVID-19. The Gospel tells the parable of the wicked tenants, echoing the opening of Isaiah 5, which was the first lesson.

Image via publicdomainpictures.net


God expected justice, but saw bloodshed instead; looked for righteousness, but heard the cry of the oppressed.

This parable did not come out of nowhere. It follows directly from last week’s story of the sons who said one thing and did another. It is part of Jesus’ answer to those who find him to be too much. Too dangerous.

Jesus takes up the parable of the prophet and applies it directly to those accusing him of exceeding his authority, in demanding justice; of riling up the rabble, by preaching repentance, and righteousness, and the blessed mercy of God.

The tenants who break their contract with God, the owner, the planter, the tender of the vineyard; the tenants break their contract with God out of greed, out of pride, out of self-importance and because they believe that if they throw their weight around enough, they will get away with it.

But there is no bluster that can deceive God. There is no violence that can bend God’s will away from the justice, the tender mercy, the harvest of righteousness that God has planted. This disruption, this violence, this evil will not be allowed to stand.

And what will the landowner do? Note that it is not Jesus who predicts his participation in the cycle of violence. No, that word came from the others, the ones he was addressing. They still do not understand the complete revolution of righteousness that rejects bloodshed, that calls forth songs of praise, not cries of pain.

Jesus is unequivocal in calling out the oppression, the deception, the greed, the manifest evil that sin has sown in the vineyard. He does not employ the methods of revenge, of escalation, of dominance to right the wrong. But he is confident that justice will serve, and that righteousness will be returned; that those who would turn a blind eye to the kingdom of God will stub their toes on it.

He is so confident in the justice and mercy of God that he is prepared to go to the Cross for it.

In the book of the prophet, the curse upon the vineyard does not endure forever: “Let it cling to me for protection,” says the Lord; “let it make peace with me, let it make peace with me.” (Isaiah 27:5)

In the book of Jesus’ life, the Cross is not undone. The scars remain; the pain of life and death is not denied, but the Resurrection continues the promise that come what may, no deception, no violence of greed or oppression, no deadly evil, nothing can finally prevent the life of God becoming manifest in the world.

We come together today around the fruit of the vine and the wheat of the earth. We feast on the promises of God made flesh in Christ Jesus. May we be worthy tenants of the vineyard. May we return to God what we owe: our life, our breath, our all.

Amen.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020). She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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