Our readings today are difficult to hear and a bit difficult to preach on, both for their symbolism which can be lost on us and because of their content.

We see in both the old testament and the gospel, images of the vineyard.  Vineyards were very important in Isaiah’s and in Jesus’ world because wine was something that was common for people to drink.  So the vineyard, while somewhat ordinary, becomes a symbol that points at the faithful of Israel.  The hearers of Matthew’s gospel would likely know that symbolism, certainly the temple authorities would, and they would know immediately that Jesus was critiquing them and their care of the faithful.

Something that is also important for us to remember, is that the caretakers of the vineyard are tenants; they do not own the vineyard.  God the Father is the owner, and the Son who is disrespected and killed is Jesus.  I don’t think it’s a far reach to say that Jesus is warning the hearers of the parable of what is to come; he is telling them of his death at the hands of the authorities.  There is much for all of them to think about.

What about us?  How do we get something out of this parable?

I think there is a good warning here for us to remember that we are not the owners of God’s good earth.  Creation belongs to God alone and you and I are asked to be stewards of creation.  That means that all that we do has consequences that can either harm or help our world.  Sometimes I think the best we can hope for is that our actions are neutral.  Lord knows that so many of them are harmful, some of them directly harmful to other people.  And I don’t just mean ecological things here, but also our own personal sins that affect the lives of others, the way we idolize things that are not God, the ways that we put our “rights”  above the care and concerns of others… Sins, both personal and corporate, are harming our planet and harming each other.  We act as though the earth is ours to destroy and care and concern for others is sometimes not a priority.  Society feeds these false gods that we worship and it also feeds our supposed needs that these false gods fulfill.  

Our reading from Paul seems to give us a correction to our course.  Paul is clear that any of his earthy gains mean absolutely nothing in the kingdom of God.  It is Jesus and Jesus alone that gives Paul his status.  All of Paul’s earthly accomplishments mean nothing without his faith in Jesus, and Paul seems to know that his goal of living with Jesus in the kingdom of God is not able to be realized without God’s grace and mercy.  Nothing Paul does gets him there, only Jesus can do that.  But, Paul continues to act for the love of God and the kingdom because that is the only response one can make in the face of God’s selflessness.

Beloved we are the vineyard that God lovingly tends.  There are all kinds of false gods in our lives that compete for our attention and loyalty.  Success according to society’s standards isn’t always a bad thing, but we all must be aware of the effects of our actions.  Are we harming or helping the kingdom?  What corporate sins are we participating in that we need to examine? How do we shed our worldly image for one that more clearly matches Jesus and his kingdom? There is much for us to think about and perhaps some things we should all consider changing.  May the vineyard that we are be one that produces the kind of fruit worthy of God.  May we always remember that we are stewards of creation, and not the Creator.  All of creation is entrusted to us so that those who come after us might enjoy it as we have.  May we always be grateful for the incredible gift we have been given.