Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 11, 2011

Matthew 21:33-46
33 "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, "They will respect my son.' 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.' 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" 41 They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." 42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Of the great many lies in which our lives together are imbedded, perhaps there is none more seductive than that of ownership.  Now, please hear me correctly on this, there is such a thing as actual ownership in this old world of ours.  I do not think that I could convince the bank that currently holds the lien to my car that they should hand it over without me completing my payments, as great as that might be for yours truly.  But that things belong to us, that we own them, in this provisional and limited way, in the way of banks and loans, mortgages and receipts, this is not what is at stake for us today.  Instead, we are grappling with something far more fundamental, meaning that we have to chase this question a bit further before it will begin to make any sense to us.  For while we do indeed own things, in the sense that we are given the skills and abilities to make a living, to provide for ourselves, and the like, even what we think of as “ownership” in this regard remains a gift from the God who gives without end.  In a way that is more real than can be attested by these mortgages, deeds, and receipts, we own nothing in the sense that we generate it for ourselves.  Everything is actually and genuinely a gift.
            But, this is a fact we were born forgetting, and I wonder if the most common first word for children is not some form of mom or dad, but rather “mine.”  I have no intention of attempting some sort of psychoanalysis as to why this is, but suffice it to say this need to own, to have, to control, this gets us into an incredible amount of difficulty; it is the difficulty of the tenants whose lust for ownership will lead them to do extraordinary things, adding spilt blood to split blood to defend the property in which they have worked and toiled.  And before we make them out to be people of a distinct and artful ignorance, I mean, really how could they forget that they merely work in the vineyard and do not own it, let’s look a bit at their situation.  They are working for a landowner, an absentee landlord, who sets up the shop and then takes off on a long journey.  Which means that while the landlord might have had the start up capital, the hard cash necessary to buy the land and build the fence, watchtower and the rest, it is the tenants who are actually doing all the work.  With the actual landowner out of sight and out of mind, it is easy enough for the tenants to start to believe that they deserve much more than they are getting.  It is their sweat and effort, after all, that is building this harvest, and at some point, in that potent mixture of entitlement and resentment, that myth of ownership overtakes them.  They have forgotten a crucial fact, and in their forgetting, they act in appalling ways, killing and stoning the true owner’s servants, and then even the landowner’s son.  So intent are they on protecting what is not actually theirs, that a terrible irony results.  Rather than ending up the owners, the ones in control, the precise opposite occurs.  They end up owned, utterly determined by their bloodlust, property of their darkest desires. 
            What, then, are we to make of this?  Surely, if we could enter this story, we would wish to talk with the tenants, to remind them that their work is a gift, that they are being paid a fair wage, and that constant killing is not only a poor business strategy, it is something very near madness.  But how do you reason with someone who has lost all control?  And while today’s parable is an extreme example of this, I suspect that, if we are really honest with ourselves, that is a question that is all too relevant. And dare I say we can see perhaps a small bit of ourselves in these tenants.  No, not the murder and the bloodlust, but the singularity of their understanding of the world, the terrible reality of losing control to pride or addiction or anger or fear and anxiety, the realization that we will, in very subtle ways no doubt, do whatever it takes to protect me and mine. Especially when we believe we are undervalued, underappreciated.  
            Well, as bleak a picture as this paints of what it means to be human, there must be someway out and to be sure, a drastic problem requires a drastic solution. How, indeed, do you reason with someone who has lost all control?  Well, maybe you don’t.   Listen again to these words of Jesus: “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."  What initially sounds like violence added to violence, broken pieces and crushing stones after all, this is how the madness stops. This is how God will put an end to the violence, by enduring it.  For please remember that this stone is Christ, and he will break us by making us whole, and when he falls on us, it is not for the sake of simply falling, but so that the madness may finally come to an end.   Yes, what is being broken here is nothing less than our resentments and our pride, our fear and addictions, our need to be in control and have ownership over the gifts that we constantly receive.  In the cross, these things are extinguished, put to rest so that we may no longer be their property, but that we may be given back to the God for whom we were created and in whom lies the only genuine security.  Yes, we are broken to pieces by this Christ, for he takes from us our fear and minor madnesses, and gives us his righteousness, joy and peace.  Yes, we are crushed by this Christ, but that is not our end, it is our beginning. 
            For when this occurs, when this Christ claims us, as he does again and again, and as he preparing to do again in the Supper, we are given back to God, to one another and to the world that Gods loves so dear.  If you would like an example of this, look no further than sweet St. Paul.  Yes, this man had it all: a great family name, a prestigious education, a dedication to the good and virtuous life, and yet in his pursuit, in his ownership of such things, he ends up persecuting the very God to whom he believed he had professed his allegiance.  But he, too, on the road to Damascus, ends up broken open by this same Christ.  And now, now, Paul can count all as that he has as that which is to be given away, for he has been found by the Christ whose broken body makes us whole.  In the blinding light of Christ’s love, and in the unceasing hope of the resurrection, Paul recognizes who he actually is.  And though it may be less dramatic for you, that Christ, the same Christ who was hoisted upon the cross, outside the vineyard mind you, the same Christ whose love so compelled St. Paul, that Christ is yours, or more aptly, you are his.  He has taken you as his own, and in the shattering of our fears, doubts, and sins, he has made us whole.  We cannot, do not own him, nor is it ours to say who is invited to his table.  But we are given the freedom to forget about this nonsense of ownership and go bear Christ to a world that needs desperately a word of hope and forgiveness, a world that longs to hear that we are more than what we own, and that our very lives are held by a God who does not refuse us. Yes, in the gifts that Christ gives, he then gifts us to the world, to the hungry and the lonely, the sad and the vulnerable.  It is to them that we now belong.   So come now to the table and take in the broken body and the shed blood that alone makes you whole.  For it is amazing to all eyes.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

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