Call to Worship (Psalm 80: 1-3)
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
HYMN 543 Christ be our light
we awaken ourselves to Your presence
as we awaken too,
to our discovery of who we have become.
We know we were created in Your image,
that You have a history of bringing us out of slavery
and into freedom
and we long to find that freedom today.
We know You as the great restorer –
able to transform all injustice
into the kingdom of heaven on earth
and we open ourselves
to be part of Your future that is coming.
We hold You to account God, for the things that do not go to plan.
We blame You.
We are angry.
We see You stopping justice from being served.
For we know You could do it better.
We know that You could make it perfect
And so who else to rage at but You?
And it is in this moment of honesty that we find ourselves
And our part in the story –
the things we stayed quiet about,
the things we accepted as being okay,
when deep down we know they are not,
the times we served ourselves first
so that there wasn’t enough to go round.
We ask for Your restoration,
for You to make Your face shine upon us
that, having released our anger and blame
we discover the tools for planting again.
The hope for our future becoming our vision
that together, we can be Your people again.
You are hidden beneath our idea of being “good Christians”.
We long to rediscover Your faithfulness and love.
We want to reflect Your grace and mercy in our lives
so that we may become the tenants of Your vineyard,
ready to share our harvest with all.
The Lord’s Prayer
Isaiah 5: 1-7
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
my loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
‘Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.’
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Matthew 21: 33-46
‘Listen to another parable: there was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall round it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
‘The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them in the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said.
‘But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
‘Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’
‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvellous in our eyes”?
‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.’
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.
HYMN 259 Beauty for brokenness
One of the features of the Gospel of Matthew is the matter of authority. Our reading today is the third response to queries about the origins of Jesus’ authority for his activity in the Temple. The first response was a counter-challenge about the authority of John the Baptiser; the second was a parable that directly challenged the Temple leaders’ understanding of the activity of God. Now Jesus recalled and re-interpreted Isaiah’s love-song about a vineyard.
The allusion to Isaiah was unmistakable. The prophet made clear that the vineyard was a metaphor for the “house of Israel and the people of Judah”, and that God was the caretaker of this vineyard. Despite careful attention, the vineyard produced only “wild grapes.” The vineyard’s failure to produce better fruit forced the owner to end his care. If the land was unable to produce with proper care, what would it do without it?
In Jesus’ parable the problem was with the tenants themselves. These were extremely violent tenant farmers, harming and slaughtering the various groups of slaves sent by the landowner. The rationale for their brutality and murderous ways was stated explicitly when the son visited: “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance”.
On the surface, the landowner’s decision to send his son despite the tragedy of his servants seemed unwise but the parable did not highlight it as such. Rather, in that culture, the landowner’s decision to send his son was appropriate since he could expect proper respect for his appointed heir.
Culturally, the leasing of land to tenant farmers was a common experience in the first century. Landowners could expect tenants to turn over a portion of the crop. Those who failed to meet the landowner’s standards would be removed from the land.
In addition to a twist on Isaiah’s vineyard, Jesus cites Psalm 118. This shifts the focus of the parable, from a critique of the tenants to a statement about the son (or stone). The story was no longer about the vineyard, the produce, or the tenant farmers. Now, Jesus turned attention toward the abused son: “they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him”.
For Matthew, this twist was important as the abused son became “the stone that the builders rejected” which, in turn, determined who was in or out. The son who was sent becomes an allegory for God’s son, Jesus. The tenant farmers, who represented the temple leadership, would be replaced by other tenants. What looked like a landowner’s foolishness was really God’s plan: “this was the Lord’s doing”.
In Matthew’s account, the temple leadership realized the parables question their leadership abilities over the vineyard (i.e., Israel, the kingdom of God). Yet they are unable to act, despite their anger, due to the crowds. The leadership’s concern was that the crowd viewed both John and Jesus as prophets.
A note on the “landowner” is in order. The term may be translated as “household master”, and was used an analogy for God in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s Gospel. To the modern reader the analogy may cause concern, since many of these masters owned slaves. Within Jesus’ parables, household masters generally make wise decisions, even if misunderstood.
While this was a parable about the actions of evil tenant farmers, it was also a story about the abused son, especially once Jesus refocused the story with the attachment of a passage from Psalm 118.
Proper care and oversight of those people and things entrusted to us should receive fair hearing from this parable. We, too, are like those who wish to receive more credit for our labour, as if we “own” the “land.”
In Jesus’ teaching, there was a fundamental reminder that only the Creator owns everything and we, too, are simply tenants leasing out the talents God has granted to be used for the greater good in the kingdom. This means, for us, that we should consider the gifts that we have been given, and how we use them to further the Kingdom of God. Unlike the characters in either Isaiah or the parable we should be endeavouring to be good tenants, worthy of the land.
Loving and amazing God,
Your constant relationship of love and faithfulness
is one which sustains us through all things.
Your stories speak to us,
transcending time and place,
meeting us here today.
We give You thanks for the choice to let go
of who we have thought ourselves to be
and become a runner in Your race,
with the experience of the love of Christ as our only goal.
We give thanks too, that You call us again and again
to be Your people,
that You love us and want us to live together
in fullness of community and life,
that You send people, prophets and Jesus,
to show us Your love.
In turn, send us as Your people and prophets,
and as Christ to those who need to meet You.
We give thanks that You want us to be part of the harvest,
In the gathering of it and the sharing,
so that we might learn more
of what it is to be like You. Amen
When it is our walls coming down
and we see our family under attack,
when we see the hope of harvest crumbling before us
May Your presence be revealed
When it is the walls of others that are crumbling
when the family under attack are our neighbour’s,
when we have enough, but they do not
May Your justice be stirred within us
When we are tearing down the walls
when we are attacking our neighbours
when we are taking what is not ours
May Your mercy be upon us
When we have a choice to restore the walls
when we have room for others
when harvest will feed everyone
May Christ’s light shine from our hearts
as we share what we have.
HYMN 359 He came down that we may have love
May we be blessed with the restoration of Your vineyard
May we all have a part to play in that joyous task
May we see you in the tearing down of walls
and in our discovery of the Cornerstone that is Christ –
yesterday, today and forever.
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayers adapted from ‘Church of Scotland Weekly Worship’ for this Sunday.