RCL Year A Proper 22
Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Saint Matthew 21:33-46

The readings today give us two vineyards in two parables. “The vineyard,” Isaiah tells us, in his parable, “of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.”[1] And the vineyard, in Jesus’ parable, the one that the landowner takes from one group of tenants and gives to another group of tenants has a slightly different significance.

The chief priests and the Pharisees realize that Jesus is talking about them. The first group of tenants in the parable represents them. They are the ones whose leadership is about to be given to someone else, to another group, perhaps, some might say, to Jesus’ followers.

So, we do not have a neat doubling of the same meaning as we have, say, in Pharaoh’s dream, where seven cows, fat and sleek, come up out of the Nile to be followed by seven cows, poor and ugly, who eat them; and seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, and seven ears, withered and thin, sprouting after them.

One parable today concerns the whole house of Israel, and the other parable concerns the chief priests and the Pharisees. But though the parables’ meanings are not a neat reflection of each other, we see that both have to do with many common things. And I want to address three of them as quickly as I can.

First, neither the whole house of Israel nor the religious leaders are the landowner. By the same token, we are not God. But we have a relationship with God just as Israel and the leaders have a relationship with the landowner.

Second, that relationship is a relationship that includes service. Israel is to produce grapes, not wild grapes. And the leaders are to produce a fair portion of the produce to pay for their tenancy. In our relationship with God, we are to produce the fruit of good works, the doing of God’s will, doing right rather than wrong and helping those who need it.

Third, the house of Israel and the religious leaders stand to lose their responsibility to serve if they do not serve. Israel’s vineyard will be torn apart, and the religious leaders’ vineyard will be given to other tenants who fulfill their responsibility. And our opportunity to produce the fruit of good works hangs in the balance. That opportunity is not an inviolable inheritance. It is more like a brain or a muscle; that opportunity has to be developed and exercised to remain functional.

One beautiful thing about reading and telling God’s story over and over again endures to be that the story is remarkably consistent. We learn over and over again that God has given us most everything that we need and that our response to God is decisive and determinative for our health and our happiness.

[1] Isaiah 5:7.

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