Pippa's Sermon - Trinity 17
Trinity 17 - Matthew 21:32-end
We sometimes see in the newspapers stories of landlords and landowners using their
estates to make money very much at the expense of their tenants, which they seem to use to go off and buy expensive yachts for themselves, and private aeroplanes, and
several properties of their own; the while not repairing the properties they have let out. If the tenants sound off, rebel, default on the rent, they kick them out. And we (I hope) feel sickened, are horrified at the greed and the mess; and rejoice if the tenants maybe take the landlord to court – and win.
Now this parable is about a landowner; so it sets up warning signals; there’s a subconscious feeling about what may be coming. And indeed there should be. For the
tenants do rebel, feel they are losing out. Maybe they stage a demo, with banners. Has the landlord been there helping with all the dirty work? Hasn’t he just abandoned things whilst off somewhere enjoying himself? And now he sends first his slaves, and then his son, to collect the profits – doesn’t even come to thank them. The slaves, and the son, are all killed. And so too, when the landowner comes himself, the tenants too face a miserable death.
But, we say to ourselves, this is a parable. A parable about the kingdom. And surely the
landowner must represent God? Is the kingdom like this? This is all wrong. And indeed it is – for consider the differences.
This landowner, who planted the vineyard, didn’t just do the minimum. He put in a fence a wine press, a watchtower. He saw that it was good – and then he made a covenant with the tenants that they would look after it, cultivate it, make sure it bore good fruit. And, trusting them, he went away. But the tenants – as we know, they didn’t keep all their side of the bargain; they even committed murder for their own ends. The fruit of the vineyard became death and destruction. And so - they perished.
This is a parable, as I said. And much of the interpretation is clear – as those listening
realise. It’s even an echo of the beginning of Isaiah chapter 5, ‘My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill ... he expected it to yield grapes’, where it’s explicitly stated that the vineyard is the House of Israel. The landlord’s messengers are the prophets, warning, reminding the people of the covenant. The tenants are those who are listening to Jesus – the chief priests and the elders who question his authority. And the ending - well, it’s again very like Isaiah’s ending. ‘Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them ... ‘ It’s sad really that Matthew ends this story as he does, in a rather Old Testament way for we know now it needn’t be like this. We are the Easter people, we have seen Christ’s resurrection. The cornerstone of our faith, the Lord’s doing. God’s love and forgiveness for all who repent – and he wants all his children to repent. And we have God’s gift of his Holy Spirit to guide us - that we may bear not sour grapes, but the fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. And especially at this time, when there seems so much trouble in the world, we may not fear but truly bear such fruit, to God’s glory; that the kingdom may come.
A Collect for this Sunday -
you call us to fullness of life:
deliver us from unbelief
and banish our anxieties
with the liberating love of Jesus Christ our Lord.