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

The Psalm and both Lessons today have a vineyard. And I will tell you that a vineyard, in all three instances, is a figure for the people of God. We are in these Readings. Each one of them is about us.

Of the three vineyards, the one in the parable that Jesus tells is the most highly developed, not as a vineyard but as a figure for the people of God. For we have in the Second Lesson a vineyard and its produce, an owner, tenants, and slaves the owner sends to collect his produce. We even have the son of the owner who is sent to collect the owner’s produce after the tenants have killed the slaves sent for the same purpose. With all of these characters, we have a figure for every part of our experience of God, the world, the church, the prophets, and, as well, our Lord and Savior.

The outcome is not pretty. The tenants kill the slaves and the owner’s son when they come to collect the produce rightfully belonging to the owner. That is enough to make you and me twitchy. For I know that I have not given to God all I could have given. I have held some things back for myself. And if I have not sung the praises of our Lord and Savior loudly enough or often enough, well, then, I too stood by when our Lord was crucified. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? … Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble.”[1] These vineyards we cannot say are really about other people. They are about us.

The usual evasion of the twitchy trembling is to say the parable focuses on the chief priests and the Pharisees, the tenants of the vineyard who were turned out when the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 a.d.But if they were turned out, who were their successors but the Christians? The really beautiful thing about parables and figures is that they may, and often do, refer to more than one thing or group of people. The Lesson tells us that the chief priests and the Pharisees realized that Jesus was speaking about them.[2]

But do we realize that Jesus speaks about us also? In my own experience that realization is the first step toward maturity. Once you realize that you need to be saved, then you can begin to work out your salvation. Make no mistake about it: the “stone” on which we may fall and be broken to pieces[3] is this very stone.

We are to produce the “fruits of the kingdom.”[4] You know when you are giving to God the things that are God’s. And you know when you are not doing that. I am not here to build a window into your soul. But I am here to hold up a mirror, so that you may see where you stand.

[1] Hymn 172.

[2] Saint Matthew 21:45.

[3] Saint Matthew 21:44.

[4] Saint Matthew 21:43.