This is a short meditation on the liturgical readings for today, the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A), according to the Revised Common Lectionary. The readings are Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-15, Philippians 3:4b-14, and Matthew 21:33-46). Read these first. The words of the biblical witnesses are far more important than my words which follow.
In Isaiah, we learn that Yahweh’s people in Jerusalem and Judah have been planted there by Yahweh where he has nurtured and protected them with his truth, freedom, love, and vitality. He expected this same fruit from them. He did not get it. Instead, his people devoted themselves to the six conventional gods of Olympianity and produced the fatal works of falsehood, power, indifference, and death. So what will Yahweh do? If his people really want to be the people of those other—destructive—gods, he will grant them their wish. He will withdraw his nurture and protection from them. Then his people will experience first-hand what liars those other gods truly are and what destructive consequences come from worshiping them. Can that really be what his very own people want?
The Psalmist is amongst those who got their wish. Unpleasant. He begs Yahweh to return to his people, his vineyard, and save them from the destructive consequences of their rejection of him.
Like Isaiah, Jesus shares with the people of Yahweh a parable about a vineyard. In contrast to Isaiah, however, Jesus tells a story that emphasizes the leaders of Yahweh’s people. In the parable that Jesus tells, the leaders of Yahweh’s people reject Yahweh himself in their desire to exercise exclusive control over his people. The question here is who exactly is lord. Jesus rightly anticipates that these false leaders—who no doubt understand themselves to be the truest possible leaders—will soon put even him, the one and only Son of God, to death in the vain hope of permanently ending Yahweh’s challenges to their control of Yahweh’s people.
Jesus tells them it won’t work. Their vain plans will fail. Yahweh will simply take the vineyard—his own kingdom—away from them and give it to others. And that’s exactly what he did.
So, as churches, how are we doing today? As Yahweh anticipated, our walls have been broken down. No meaningful boundary exists between Christians and non-Christians. We believe in being inclusive. Churches boast that they have a “religiously diverse” congregation. Sure, some were raised Catholic and others Protestant. Worse, some affirm that Jesus is our savior while others do not believe in God at all (!). That means we’re inclusive, in a certain way, but it doesn’t mean we’re diverse. It means we’re Olympian. It’s our shared though unwitting devotion to the gods of Olympus that provides our churches with the shared goals for which we meet. As a result, there’s little fruit and lots of weeds, little truth and lots of falsehood, where the vineyard once was. And no rain—no living word from Yahweh (yet!)—to save us (see Amos 8:11).
Our leaders, too, have unwittingly rejected Jesus as the one and only Son of God and Son of Man. Now he is neglected during Sunday worship and sermons in favor of an endless variety of false saviors, endless preoccupation with ourselves, and endless praise of just how good we are.
Paul, however, speaks to us about what a meaningful alternative would look like. He tells us how we might live as a fruitful vineyard. He tells us what our leaders might do to guide, coordinate, and inspire us if devotion to Jesus mattered to them. He tells us, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8, New American Standard Version).
We need to go with Paul on this and renew our knowledge of Christ Jesus. That means two things. One, we need to turn off the TV, stop listening to the radio, quit surfing the internet, delete our social media accounts, and frustrate our smartphones by using them like landlines. That will reduce the vitality of our Olympian personality and the toxic Olympian worldview all those Olympian media sustain.
Then we need to start a disciplined reading of the Bible: the narrative of which Jesus is the source, center, and goal. Following the Daily Bible Readings listed above is one way to do this. As we read the Bible, let us listen for the ways in which Jesus calls us today to live as clearer, more distinct, necessarily more exclusive witnesses to him. Let us pray to Jesus that he will help us find at least one other person whom he likewise is calling to live as a prophetic witness to him. Let us meet at least weekly with this other person and talk about how Jesus is calling us to share his truth, freedom, love, and vitality with one other and, together, with other Christians. Yes, our work right now starts with strengthening the other scattered vines of Christ’s own Church!
Now that you have read the words of the biblical witnesses for today, and the words which I sense Jesus might be saying to us through them, I invite you to read the words which another person sensed Jesus might be sharing with us today through these same readings (although the web page refers to today as the Sixteenth after Pentecost). He is Charles Hoffacker. According to his biography, he is “an Episcopal priest, teacher, writer, and activist who has served in parish and campus ministries in several states.” You may find his sermon for today here. What do you think? How do his words and mine compare with one another and, more importantly, with those of the Bible? What words might Jesus be sharing with you through these same readings? Please share your comments!
Copyright © 2017 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.