Growing up Catholic, we always said “grace” at the diner table.
We used to say “Bless Us O Lord for these they gifts which we are about to receive through thy county through Christ, our Lord, Amen.
It’s still a good prayer.
But I always wondered what that phrase “These thy gifts” meant.
You see, as an 8-year-old boy, I didn’t understand Old English, but I was able to later figured it out.
Thy meant Your.
No surprise there.
But as a small child, I wondered what the connection was between the spaghetti and meatballs that my mom had made and the gifts God gives us.
But this parable today explains that very well.
Why? Because it outlines just who the Thy is in that particular prayer before a meal, but it also shows us whose vineyard this is.
Now, remember a couple weeks back, we talked about the vineyard as being a metaphor for the church, and this is where we do God’s work.
This is where we produce fruit.
In our Matthew 21 reading today, we have a few more players in the vineyard.
First, we have God, who is the owner of the vineyard.
Then we have the tenants that God leases the vineyard to — and they are the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees and chief priests.
Then we have the slaves, who are the Owner’s prophets — working for the Owner, who, remember, is God.
And then we have the Owner’s son. And that is, of course, Jesus.
And so the parable goes that the Owner had a special piece of land that we call the vineyard, and he leases it to tenants.
But when the harvest comes — when it’s time to collect the fruit that has grown — the tenants are greedy and corrupt and so they abuse and kill the slaves, who are the prophets.
And this happens again — more slaves sent, more murder.
Finally, the Owner sends his Son, and they do the same thing to him.
They kill him.
So we see Jesus using allegory here:
This is the story of God’s people in Israel.
God leased (not gave, and that’s an important detail…) the Israelites the Promised Land (the vineyard).
Those in charge of doing God’s will don’t. (These are the leaders).
So God sends slaves (Prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah and John the Baptist).
But the leaders are greedy and reject and kill them.
So God sends God’s son.
And the religious leaders crucify him.
And at the end of the parable, Jesus asks the religious leaders in Verse 40, “When the Owner comes back, what will he do to the tenants?”
And the religious leaders answer “Kill them and lease the vineyard to new tenants.”
And as soon as the Pharisees and Chief Priests say this, they convict themselves of being the evil tenants in the parable — and real life.
And Jesus admonishes them in Verse 43, after quoting a prophetic verse of Psalm 118, in which Jesus becomes the cornerstone that the builders rejected.
And he says: “…the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom.”
And then Jesus says the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces.
In other words, anyone who jumps on or hurts or kills the Cornerstone — Christ — will be broken; and anyone whom the Cornerstone falls on will be crushed. Verse 44.
And how do the Pharisees take this?
Not very well.
They’ve been persecuting Christ followers this whole time, and they want to arrest and destroy Christ now, but the people surrounding them regarded Jesus as a prophet and wouldn’t allow that.
Note, too, that the people surrounding Jesus and who think he’s a prophet are Matthew’s community.
Remember, this is Matthew’s Gospel, and these people are disciples — followers of Christ.
When Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are the tenants and will be broken by Christ, the new tenants who will follow God’s will are Matthew’s community of Jesus followers.
Put yourself into that scene for a moment.
There are the Pharisees who are persecutors, and they’re angry enough to want to destroy Jesus.
And then there are the Christ followers…
Who have no real power in that culture.
They are the least.
This is the story that repeats over and over in the Bible.
David and Goliath.
Joseph and his older brothers.
Daniel and the Lion.
Joshua and the walls of Jericho.
Elijah and Abel.
David and Saul.
Moses and Pharaoh.
This is the least given the most.
The last before the first.
It’s probably a pretty intense moment when Jesus’s followers are standing there feeling the burning rage in the eyes of the Pharisees…
Think about it…
And even after the Pharisees hear this, they will never accept Christ; they will always reject him.
And they eventually crucify him.
But they don’t get the vineyard or its fruit.
They don’t get to build on the Cornerstone.
Instead, they are crushed by the Cornerstone.
Evil was, is and will be defeated by the Resurrection.
Death is defeated by the Resurrection — by eternal life.
And so when we hear Jesus go back to teaching about the vineyard, we can see yet another dimension of it.
Jesus talks so much about the vineyard and the vine and the fruit.
And in this parable, he talks about the Source — the Owner.
God, the Creator.
And what does God do?
God is so merciful, that as the Owner of the vineyard, God gives multiple chances to us to repent — to turn away from.
The Pharisees don’t, and we have to ask whether we are like the Pharisees, or are we like the new tenants — Matthew’s community?
I think we need to be careful here before we get too self-righteous.
Because maybe we’re not Pharisees and rejecting the prophets or Jesus.
Gosh, I hope not.
But if the vineyard is the church and we are the tenants, we have to ask ourselves are we only interested in keeping the vineyard for ourselves instead of doing what the Owner wants us to do with it?
We’re certainly blessed here at Trinity to be able to share the gifts that we have.
Our ministries, our efforts to help people in need — from local folks who need some money and prayers to get by to filling up a tractor-trailer with flood buckets to take to hurricane-ravaged areas.
As well, opening our doors to host the entire community during our 200th Anniversary events.
We could have easily made that all about us; we didn’t.
And while the Owner calls us to produce fruit and share it, it’s not only in our church or even in our parish.
And it’s not only in our county or even our nation.
But it’s all around the world, too:
Puerto Rico, Mexico, India, Syria Somalia…
And in our own country: Flint, Michigan; Standing Rock, South Dakota…
And in our own society: Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Women…
We think about this Theodicy — just a fancy word for God’s justice.
And we ask, “Why does God let these things happen?”
I mean surely, why is it the people with the least amount of resources or power or abilities or health or food are the ones who are constantly being beaten down?
Unarmed, like in Las Vegas.
Children, who have no power against their abusers.
The earth and all of its resources and animals, whom we continue to abuse and destroy.
God planted a vineyard
You see, God planted a vineyard.
God planted a vineyard so that we can share the fruits.
Not just with those who come here, and not just with those who are like us.
But with all of God’s people.
We’re that faith community — like Matthew’s — who have this wonderful opportunity, this gift!
Remember, the vineyard doesn’t belong to us; it’s been leased to us.
That means we have to produce the fruit that the owner requires.
Not just the fruit we want to produce.
The tenants in the parable got this 180-degrees wrong.
They had forgotten what the vineyard was really for.
It’s a gift from God.
And we need to see it as a gift and know we will have to give an account for it.
Back to the table…
“These thy gifts” seems incredibly appropriate, then, doesn’t it?
The tenants forgot the source of the gifts, and then tried to greedily keep it all to and for themselves.
Let us prayerfully — each and every day — be reminded in our daily devotions, in our prayers and even in our grace before a meal remember those gifts, and who the Thy is.
When we do, we can better understand that they aren’t ours.
The church isn’t ours.
The vineyard isn’t ours.
Our very lives, even, are not our own.
They are gifts from God.
Gifts that must be shared.
Doors that must be open.
A vineyard that must be fruitful.
Then what do we get for our efforts?
Freedom from the sting of death.
Forgiveness for our sins that lead to death.
Celebrating in the presence of God and all those faithful who have gone before us.
Are we working in the vineyard to receive this?No.
It’s already been given by Jesus’s death on the cross and the resurrection from the tomb!
We’re not working to earn these gifts; we’re working because of them.
Do you see the difference?
When we understand this, then we will always remember the source, the gift and the opportunity we have to share.
From Thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.