Pentecost 18 – Those wicked tenants!

Title:Pentecost 18 – Those wicked tenants!

Wendell Berry comes to mind this week as we move to fall out of the Season of Creation with St. Francis Day. Here is his poem "October 10" from The Selected Poem of Wendell Berry, a reminder of the wonder of fall:

 "Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

"Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

"Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

"The calling of a crow sounds
loud—a landmark—now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow."


The lectionary commentary is provided by Lance Ousley formerly of the Diocese of Olympia. The readings are here

“Our stewardship and our lives are a reflection of where we place the priority of living in relationship with God. God’s hope for us is to be set free from false pursuits and empty promises of the priorities of materialism and power-positioning. Living in right relationship with God orders our lives according to God’s peaceable kingdom. In God’s kingdom we live in right relationship with our neighbor as an expression of our priority relationship with God, producing the fruits of righteousness and justice. Our readings for this week center on the priority of our relationship with God above all else, ordering our lives according to God’s kingdom.

“The reading option from Isaiah 5 lays out the blessings that God has bestowed upon God’s people to establish their unjust actions in relationship to God. The blessings and expectations are presented as fruit worthy of God’s blessings. To God’s disappointment the fruit produced was in contrast the the blessings that God had planted in Israel. This fruit of “wild grapes” was a disordering of their relationships, failing to make God a priority and expressing this priority in relationship with others. The consequence of the fruit of unrighteousness is retraction of the blessings through their lack of stewarding the blessings of their relationship with God and others. At the end of the pericope we hear the indictment, God expected justice and righteousness, but saw bloodshed and heard cries. It is clear what God expects from us and that God calls us to steward relationships with justice and righteousness through the blessings we have in our lives.

“Paul establishes his worldly achievements to illustrate to the Philippians and us the futility of their value in comparison to having a relationship with Christ and living into the abundance of Christ’s resurrection and our share in it. Paul’s encouragement here while proclaiming his credentials is a nuanced statement about the motivation behind his actions. Before knowing Christ, Paul’s life was governed by a relationship with the law, for the sake of the law (and selfish bragging rights in power positioning). But in coming to know Christ and being in relationship with him, Paul’s motivation to live in righteousness was to reflect the priority of his relationship with Christ in faith. It is then through the “surpassing value of knowing Christ” that Paul stewards righteousness in all his relationships and encourages us to do this also.

“In our Gospel lesson this week Jesus exposes the religious leaders for their failure to live with God as the priority in their lives reflected by the lack of their righteous actions in regard to those whom God loves. The parable of the tenants in the vineyard shows their priority of materialism and power-postioning over producing the fruit of God’s kingdom in relationship with God. With no other gods before God, our stewardship is directed to produce the fruit of God’s kingdom in our world which is characterized by justice and righteousness. The bottom line is that when we put God first in our lives, we live to make God’s desire for all people a reality with all that we are and all that we have. This stewardship expresses our love for God for the benefit of God’s kingdom being established on earth as it is in heaven. Really, it is all a matter of proper priorities.


Lutheran Minister David Lose concentrates on the Gospel:

“Taken together, and given that Matthew is writing about fifty years or so after the events he recounts in order to encourage his congregation, especially in the face of disputes with Pharisees, I think Matthew places such harsh words on the lips of Jesus’ opponents in order to have them condemn themselves. In this way, Matthew suggests, is not Jesus’ rendering judgment; rather, they themselves witness to their heinous rejection.

“Keeping in mind that Matthew’s community is a distinct religious minority with little societal or religious power, is caught up in a bitter sibling rivalry with Jewish communities, and is uncertain and likely fearful of their future after the destruction of the Temple, we might understand these rhetorical decisions. But two thousand years later, and with centuries of anti-Semitic use of verses like these, they are painful to read and difficult to preach.

But… whatever we may think of Matthew’s rhetorical decisions, perhaps we can put them to a better use than he imagined. Because here’s the thing: the violent answer the audience gives Jesus is the right answer, at least according to the world. The landowner has every right to punish the tenants for their refusal to pay him his due and every right to destroy them, even put them to death, for their treatment of his servants and for their murder of his son. Yes, it is the right answer, the answer Jesus’ audience expects, the answer the world demands.

“Because here’s the thing: the violent answer the audience gives Jesus is the right answer, at least according to the world. The landowner has every right to punish the tenants for their refusal to pay him his due and every right to destroy them, even put them to death, for their treatment of his servants and for their murder of his son. Yes, it is the right answer, the answer Jesus’ audience expects, the answer the world demands.

“But in Matthew’s story, it is not the answer Jesus gives. Again, Matthew likely makes this shift to criticize his opponents. Nevertheless, according to this particular part of the narrative, Jesus does not give this answer. Which prompts us to remember that the parables are, I believe, pictures, insights, and gleams of what the kingdom of God looks like. By throwing everyday events and persons together in unexpected ways, Jesus’ parables point to who God is, how God acts, and how we are expected and invited to live in light of all this. Which means that while the answer the chief priests and elders and Pharisees give is the right answer according to everything we’ve learned from our life in the world, it’s not the answer God looks for. In fact, the rest of Matthew, and indeed, the whole biblical story, offers another answer that runs more like that famous line from John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16).

“In the end, you see, this parable isn’t about wicked tenants… or Pharisees… or Matthew’s community… or even us. It’s rather about God. God the one who entrusted us with all good things, blessing us beyond the dreams of our grandparents. God the one who, even when disappointed by what we do with those blessings, yet comes to us in love. God the one who weeps over the injustices of the world, embraces those who fall short, and promises to never, ever give up on anyone. Not those tenants. Not Matthew with his penchant for violent rhetoric. Not even us, when we refuse to recognize others – all others! – as God’s beloved children and instead view them as competitors or threats.

“Setting the parable free, for even just a moment or two, from its original context invites us to ask a more personal and pertinent (or perhaps impertinent) question: What will we do? Will we hoard our blessings or share them? Will we embrace those in need or shun them. Will we use our privilege to work for greater equity and justice for others or to secure our own future?