10/8/2017 Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 21:33-43.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but I love watching the commercials on TV. Sure, they interrupt the program, but I often find that they are full of creativity and insight, like one that aired a few years ago. That commercial, for a product I don’t remember, showed a funeral procession of expensive, super luxury vehicles, driving single file behind a hearse, toward a cemetery. As the camera focused on the passengers in the first one, and then the next and the next, a voice could be heard. The voice was that of a lawyer, reading the will that each would soon hear. “To my nephew,” the voice said, “who didn’t know the value of a dollar, I leave one dollar. To my grandson, who spent money as though it was nothing, I leave nothing.” On and on it went, as the lawyer announced the amount to be given to each, all of whom had obviously behaved in ways that indicated that they would throw away anything entrusted to them. Finally, trailing up the procession was a young man driving a small compact car (the product being advertised). He and his car seemed so out of place as the voice recited the words: ”And to my grandnephew, who believes that a penny saved is a penny earned, I leave my entire fortune of one hundred billion dollars!”
That TV commercial stuck with me as in some ways, it sums up what is going on in the gospel for today. For, basically, in the gospel, a wealthy benefactor offers everything to those in he sends into his vineyard. They are given the opportunity to use what he provides to them. And, in fact they may stand to inherit it all. We don’t know. But we do know that before this will happen, they are given the opportunity to show that they won’t abuse or misuse or toss away the benefactor’s gift to them and that they are not going to hoard, but they are going to respect the benefactor’s wishes and the benefactor’s mind and will.
The tenants in the vineyard use the vineyard rightly. They work hard and produce much fruit, BUT, they forget one important thing – that the vineyard is not theirs. Just because they work hard doesn’t mean they have earned the right to possess that which is a gift to use. A gift is a gift. The owner is the owner. A tenant is the user of a gift.
The tenants have everything they need…good land, fine vines which produce good grapes. They are even given a wine press to process the grapes and hedges to protect the vineyard from wild animals and a tower to keep watch over it. The problem with the tenants in today’s parable is not that they are poor farmers or that the owner of the vineyard has not given them everything they need. The problem with the tenants is greed and forgetfulness.
It seems incredible that the tenants, that is the managers of a property, could conclude that by killing off the rightful heir that they could inherit everything. Of course, by doing something that outrageous, they lose everything, or so it seems. But, of course, Jesus is not specific as far as consequences for the tenants’ actions are concerned. He lets the Pharisee outline the punishment for such transgression, and then he turns it around and applies the consequences to them.
All this should serve as a warning. For, like the gracious owner in the parable, God has given us everything we need in order to live and to be productive. The universe God made, his vineyard, is God’s own treasure house which is turned over to us to use. But God remains God…God owns it all. And, God gives us an opportunity to show that we won’t abuse or misuse what he provides and that we are in tune with his mind and will. And yet, like the tenants, no matter how good we may have things, there is something about pushing God aside and claiming things as our own.
As children, one of the first words we learn is “mine.” And by using that word, we claim everyone else’s property as our own. As adults, we do not take someone else’s toys and say, “Mine,” but we compete for things…owning things…valuing things…hoarding things…holding onto things…until we forget that what we have is not our own. Things have no eternal value. They are but signs of God’s blessings…tokens entrust to us for our use and benefit.
Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, says it well: “God has given us everything we have – food, clothing, family, friends, good weather, crops, the powers of our bodies and souls.” The universe is ours to use but the universe is not ours. God entrusts it to us in order for us to accomplish something with it – in order that we can be productive. It is placed in our hands for our use. And when we are finished, we are to return it.
Our time, our health, our money, our possessions, our talents, all these and so much more are entrusted to us. God has given us the world and all that is within it so that we might have an opportunity to thrive under his care. But, opportunity can quickly become opportunism, and God’s gifts can be convoluted into selfish gain. Like the tenants in the parable, or like the wealthy relatives parading to the cemetery, we can start with promise of reward and end with nothing but ourselves.
But this need not be so. There is still time for us to open our eyes and acknowledge our Lord. For, the owner who, from the beginning, is grace-filled, remains so to the very end. God provides for us everything that we need in this world and the next. So, while it easy for us to claim to have earned what is not our own, in the long-term, such foolishness may have us inheriting as the grandson in the TV ad…that is nothing at all.
So, let us open our eyes and our hearts and acknowledge who is creator and who is not – for, everything is on loan from God for us to use. Let us cheerfully accept the role of tenant and become faithful servants of the owner of all things. For, in his good time, God has promised that we will inherit everything as it is his good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
Let us trust in our Lord, the owner and provider of all we need, both now and forever. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.