The Gospel story for this Sunday
It is a dark tale of greed,
the third of three vineyard parables
Jesus tells in the Gospel of Matthew,
explores a bold and brutal plan
to overthrow an absentee landowner
and steal his vineyard.
This is not
a crime of passion
or an unfortunate accident—
it is a group of people
launching premeditated attacks
against multiple innocent victims.
A few days before telling this story,
Jesus drove the money changers
from the temple.
And soon after telling this story,
Jesus himself was
This whole sequence in Matthew feels
weighed down with sin
and filled with violence and loss.
The disturbing image of
murder in the vineyard
is at odds
with other rich and evocative
“vineyard passages” in the Bible.
Vines and grapes are mentioned
than any other plant in Scripture.
Growing and processing grapes
was a major industry
and wine was one of the most
lucrative trade commodities
in the ancient world.
Vineyards in the ancient near east
had deep cultural,
and religious importance,
and a long history dating back
to the late stone age.
The people listening to Jesus that day
knew about vineyards.
They knew that grapes
are not a quick and easy cash crop.
They knew that growing grapes is a long game,
played out over time.
requires knowledge and hard work,
a watchful eye,
a bit of luck.
The soil and sunshine
have to be just right.
but not too much.
Pruning demands skill and precision timing.
The deep-pocket investment includes
to keep out intruders,
for crushing the grapes,
to overlook the field
and protect the operation.
For the first 3-5 years,
vines don’t produce grapes suitable for wine,
so the investment is immediate and ongoing
but the profit,
gathered around Jesus knew
that a vineyard is truly
a promise made to the future.
Labor is poured into the field today,
so it might be fruitful
The listeners also knew that
while the sweat equity was local,
the payoff was frequently distant.
Absentee landowners were common
were often counted and enjoyed
far from the hills of Galilee.
In ancient Israel,
the cultivation of a vineyard
was a Torah-regulated industry of great importance.
Like a shepherd watching over his sheep,
tending the vines required a
with the land and with the vine.
So perhaps it's not surprising
that the tenants coveted this land
Maybe the owner had been absent
for so long
the workers began to believe the land
was truly theirs.
Perhaps they assumed the landlord had died,
or had forgotten this corner of the world.
Maybe they couldn’t imagine
handing over the fruits
of land they sweated over,
to a virtual stranger.
they were just cruel and violent men,
looking to steal by force
what they could not own by law.
It is easy for us to distance ourselves
from this sad, strange story—
to read it as something that has
little to do with our own time and place--
to see it as "sacred"
but not really pertinent
to people walking the streets
of downtown Cincinnati.
The early Christian community
read this parable as an allegory
of their history.
Christians inherited the vineyard,
from the previous tenants,
who murdered the prophets,
and killed God’s Son and heir,
This story was seen as a
pointed and visceral reminder that God
favor and blessing from the Jews
and transferred that blessing
to the Christian Church.
Over the years,
this disturbing passage
has been used to justify
against the Jewish people—
leading to persecution,
acts of violence,
in a misguided and sinful attempt
to exact revenge on a people
unjustly blamed for Christ’s death.
Other interpreters see this parable
as a universal call
to faithfulness and service.
The world is a vineyard given to us to steward.
We are not the owners,
but unlike the wicked tenants,
rather than stone,
or kill the envoys and the son.
We are laborers invited into
the Kingdom work of
And I like this interpretation.
But I wonder.
Do we ever just stop and think how
this story is?
The landlord in this parable
is so determined,
to staying in relationship with these
that he sends envoy after envoy,
messenger after messenger,
servant after servant
for them to abuse and reject.
When all else fails,
he even sends his own son
to be murdered in the vineyard.
It is almost insane.
what rational person would do this?
After the first group was stoned,
most landlords would either
cut their losses,
or send in soldiers and hired thugs
to eliminate the criminals
and take back the land.
after the second brutal encounter.
And without a doubt,
after the murder.
No savvy landlord
would continue to take such risks.
What profit is there in a harvest
when your agents are brutalized?
is worth the life of your child?
This story is not really about
as depraved as they may be.
No, this is the story of a
who simply will not take
for an answer.
This is the story of a
who will not give up on his tenants;
a persistent landlord
who will not turn his back on the land;
a merciful landlord
who will not allow violence
to speak the final word.
This is the story of a landlord
who will risk anything,
and try again
to win back people who appear to be
This is the story of a landlord
who will send servant after servant,
messenger after messenger,
only to see them beaten,
And without hesitation,
send his own son
into the same dangerous field
on the same dangerous mission.
This is either love so profound
it cannot be comprehended,
or it is
God continues to send
servants and messengers
into our vineyard.
God’s servants come in all shapes and sizes,
and from all backgrounds
and points of view.
Some of them will look like friends,
and some of them
may look like strangers.
Some will be comforting,
offering mercy and love,
while others will push us
into radically new ways
of thinking or seeing.
A few may frighten us
by offering challenges
that make our hearts race
and our palms sweat.
They will invite us to honor life.
Call us to serve the poor.
Stand with us to demand justice.
Work beside us to care for creation.
They will introduce us to risky fields
and difficult missions.
We can welcome them,
or we can drive them away.
We can be open
to receiving the Landlord's messengers
or we can murder them in the vineyard.
The choice is ours.
In the end,
this parable is about you and me
and the vineyard surrounding us.
We can choose
murder in the vineyard,
and falsely live
as if the land and the profits
belong entirely to us,
or we can pledge our lives to the Vineyard,
sharing in the labor,
rejoicing in the harvest,
and waiting in joyful hope
to welcome the Landowner’s son,
whenever he arrives.
Some people might see this
and maybe it is.
It’s either that,
of a love so profound,
it cannot be comprehended.