At the start of the week this blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings, along with a headline from world news
President Rohani promises moderation and wisdom in Iran
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Jesus tells the people a pointed story
9-16 Then he turned to the people and told them this parable: “There was once a man who planted a vineyard, let it out farm-workers, and went abroad for some time. Then, when the season arrived, he sent a servant to the farm-workers so that they could give him the proceeds of the vineyard. But the farm-workers beat him up and sent him back empty-handed. So he sent another servant, and they beat him up as well, manhandling him disgracefully, and sent him back empty-handed. Then he sent a third servant, but after wounding him severely they threw him out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do now? I will send them my son who is so dear to me. Perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the farm-workers saw him, they talked the matter over with each other and said, ‘This man is the heir—come on, let’s kill him, and we shall get everything that he would have had!’ And they threw him outside the vineyard and killed him. What do you suppose the owner will do to them? He will come and destroy the men who were working his property, and hand it over to others.” When they heard this, they said, “God forbid!”
17 But he looked them straight in the eyes and said, “Then what is the meaning of this scripture—‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone?’
18 The man who falls on that stone will be broken, and the man on whom it falls will be crushed to powder.”
The authorities resort to trickery
19 The scribes and chief priests longed to get their hands on him at that moment, but they were afraid of the people. They knew well enough that his parable referred to them.
Is Jesus really saying that God is like an absentee landlord? Well, yes, he is playing with that comparison. The image of Israel as the Lord’s vineyard was well established (See Isaiah 5). Jesus and his hearers also knew about contemporary rich landlords who bought up large properties and rented them out. They were not liked by their tenant farmers, although the kind of sustained rebellion envisaged by Jesus’ story was unlikely but perhaps all the more relished by his hearers for that reason. Obviously there will be a day of reckoning. The point of the story could be expressed in the question, “If abusing an absentee landlord’s messengers and his son is bad for your health, how will it be for those who abuse the messengers and the son of God?”
The truly prophetic element in the parable is the motive of the tenants, “We’ll get everything…” The tenants aim to have the land totally under their own control. This is a very modern view of the world: it’s our world and we can do what we like with it. It is also a modern insight that this attitude brings disaster: pollution, poisoning of habitat, degradation of soil and water, climate change. Just the daily production and disposal of non-biodegradable materials promises our great grandchildren a filthy environment.
In contrast, the faith that we hold the earth in responsibility to creator God, and the shrewd wisdom of parable stories like the Garden of Eden or The Story of the Evil Tenants (as here) are a source of health for the world and all its creatures.
God’s rent is to be paid in acts of justice, kindness and respect for his property. And if sometimes we get in arrears, he demands at the very least good treatment for his messengers. The abuse suffered by climate change scientists at the hands of idiots paid by polluters is unlikely to please the God who inspires their research.