Different Ending, Rev Kinsey
(exhaling heavily.) This has been a really tough week. 58 innocent lives mowed down last Sunday night, at a Las Vegas concert. No one can figure out why! He was a Vegas regular – so why target his own adopted city? There seems to be no explanation for trekking half of his 42 gun collection all the way up to his Comped Suite just to turn them, on fellow citizens!
Was it something about concerts? He had searched out, online, Boston music festivals, at Fenway Park and the Boston Center for the Arts. And he actually booked a room at the Blackstone Hotel, here in Chicago, for all four days of Lollapalooza in Grant Park, a couple of months ago.
I’ve attended a number of concerts over the years, as I’m guessing most of us have! Some of them I’ve been to were even outdoors, like I remember taking my high school sweetheart to see Blood, Sweat and Tears at Summerfest in Milwaukee. And some 3 decades later, I took Kim there, and we saw Lucinda Williams and Neil Young. We’ve also been to concerts at Grant Park, back when they had free summer concerts, like Stevie Wonder and Bonnie Raitt. It’s fun hearing your musical favorites in concert, and a great way to be with other people. Who would ever desire to harm a crowd like that? It doesn’t make sense!
But Jesus understands this violence, and is unafraid of confronting it in our gospel story. It’s very personal for him. This is the third week, and the third of four consecutive major parables in Matthew, that Jesus addresses to his opponents, who have questioned his exousia, his authority and power.
As protectors of the Temple, and keepers of order in Jerusalem, it’s personal, to them, because it’s about their exousia, their authority and power. And they’re worried that Jesus, and the crowds who have followed him to this massive springtime Passover festival, will disturb the peace, and cause the Roman overlords to have to step-in and take some kind of action to restore order. No one wants Blood, Sweat and Tears!
But Jesus’ point is that, these Elders and keepers of the Temple economy, do not have clean hands, and are themselves, in part, to blame for the crowds who follow Jesus – crowds who follow him because they only desire peace and justice for their families, and the freedom to worship. But what the people know, is what the Elders offer is hypocritical, and so their unfaithful authority and power, is actually the root cause of the violence, in Jesus’ parable.
“Listen to another parable,” Jesus tells them this 3rd time. ‘There was a man, a landowner, who had a lovely vineyard, with a winepress, and even a watchtower, in it.’ And as we know from our First Reading, “the Vineyard” is a symbol of the nation and people of Israel, from which God expected a faithful yield of grapes to grow, “a pleasant planting,” as Isaiah says, and that, “God expected justice, but saw bloodshed.”
In the vineyard of Jesus’ parable, the man, the landowner, leases his vineyard out to some tenants, so this landowner can take some time-off, and go vacation in another country. And he even entrusts these tenants to take care of the important harvest-days while he is away.
But which only plants in their minds, the idea of, stealing the vineyard out from under the landowner!
And when the man, the landowner, sends his servants to come and collect his produce to take to market, the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and tried stoning the third. ‘The landowner’ tries again, sending even more slaves, a second time. But they were treated the same way. This patience of the landowner, is pretty much unheard of, especially as he now decides to send his very own son, figuring the tenants would have to respect him. But the tenants greed gets the best of them, and their eyes widen at the thought of taking the property away from the heir of the vineyard for themselves. And they throw the son out of his own land and kill him.
Jesus asks his listeners what they think will happen to these tenants when the landowner returns? ‘The man, the landowner,’ they say, ‘will put those rotten tenants to a miserable death, and hand over the vineyard to farmhands who will care for it and help it bear good fruit which they will faithfully harvest.’
Certainly, that’s what many of us would say, even today. They deserve punishment for murdering!
But Jesus has a different ending to the story. He does understand their feelings, and indeed, we know ‘the feeling’ as well. How many people would like to do the same, and at least initially, would want to lash out, when their loved one’s life is taken?
But Jesus asks them, “have you never read in the scriptures (Ps. 118): ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”?
Jesus implies that he is the “son” of the landowner, who the father thought the tenants of the vineyard would “respect.” But the tenants only see an opportunity in the heir – the key, to finally having land of their own! Their killing him, is just like the killing of the prophets of Israel before them. But this is a cycle of violence that cannot, and will not, solve anything. It may bring peace for a day, or perhaps longer, but it is not an answer to the shootings and killings, which will certainly return again, sooner or later. It is not a foundation on which God can build a community.
So Jesus, the son, also connects himself with the stone that the builders rejected, and which will later become the cornerstone – that is, the one foundational stone of a whole new building. A new building that will be built on, the innocent victim, the crucified king, the Son – who on the cross, forgave the penitent bandit, hanging on another cross next to him.
The question is, are we willing to follow the one who forgives from the cross? Build our lives on the cornerstone, who willingly suffered for the sake of righteousness and forgiveness, when it seems so much more natural to reject that stone!? God makes that rock the cornerstone of the community he wants to gather, after his Resurrection.
And so, Jesus’ parable, of the jealous tenants, writes a whole new ending to our violent impulses. “Imagine,” says Andrew Marr, Episcopal preacher and theologian, how this story might be re-written, after the death and resurrection of Jesus: “Imagine being one of the workers in the vineyard of this vast estate, who is sweating [away] while [the son] a well-dressed boy coolly walks by with his father, on his tour of the place. Imagine further being caught up in the rebellious fervor that spreads among the workers so that you go on strike and allow the grapes to grow wild. When the son, grown into a young man, comes to collect the produce, you join in the attack and kill th[is] heir.
“Then comes the reckoning,” continues Marr. “You and your fellow workers are brought to the magistrates, and you expect to suffer a grim fate for what you have done. To your shock, the owner of the vineyard shows up in court with the son you killed. The young man is very much alive, although the wounds inflicted on him are still bleeding. This really has you shaking in your boots! But to your further shock, the father gets out his will and announces that the vineyard was bequeathed, not only to the son, but to all of the workers. More shocking still, the father and his son welcome all of you back to work in the vineyard as joint owners. As fellow heirs, you are ready to act like heirs who will work to keep the grapes from growing wild so as to produce so much wine for the wedding feast, that it will never run out.” (Moving and Resting in God’s Desire, Andrew Marr: pp268-69)
How can we make this, our story, every day of our ‘new’ lives, as the people of God, and followers of the Son? We are forgiven and invited to be heirs of the vineyard! We are blessed, in the grace of God! Go into world forgiven, and join the feast!