18TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST Lessons & Meditation

18TH  SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   10-04-2020

FIRST READING:  Isaiah 5:1-7

The prophet sings a song about a vinedresser putting great care, protection, and patience into newly planted vines. But all the vinedresser received for all that loving care was wild grapes. So the song turns sad, from a love ballad to the blues. Isaiah sings this song as an allegory about God and his people, the nations of Israel and Judah. The fruit that God expected was mishpat (“justice”) but mispach (“bloodshed”) was produced; instead of tsedakah (“righteousness”) God received tse’aqah (“a cry”).

God asks the people to decide what should be done with that vineyard that has failed to produce good fruit. But the ultimate decision will not be theirs. God has already decided to tear the vineyard up!

What are some of the ways God cultivated and cared for his covenant people, Israel and Judah, the garden of his delight, the hope of his love? How has God cultivated and cared for you? What more could God have done for that Old Testament faith community or for you and me?

Are you bearing fruit?

SECOND READING:  Philippians 3:4b-14

Paul is writing to this beloved Christian community, one that he founded, from a prison cell in some location, uncertain whether he might be freed or executed. In last Sunday’s reading Paul had encouraged unity in this Christian community, and he had challenged his readers to have the “same mind” as Christ, that is, imitating Christ’s humility and self-sacrifice rather than engaging in “selfish ambition or vain conceit”.

In this Sunday’s reading he gives evidence of following his own advice. Paul reviews some of his own merits and achievements, his credentials, which no longer count for anything – he uses the word “skubula”, it means “human excrement”, a pile of dung, rubbish – in comparison to the right relationship with God he has been gifted with through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power of Christ’s resurrection motivates Paul to press on toward the ultimate goal, eternal life with Christ.

In verses 12-16, do you think that Paul was uncertain and anxious about whether he would reach his resurrection goal, or was he simply recognizing that the Christian life is always a struggle, always a pilgrimage along the way?

Comparing your own spiritual life to a running race, are you sitting it out due to a lack of practice, an injury, or no warm-up? Do you even actually want to run that race? Are you perhaps at the starting blocks, waiting for a signal? Going full effort to the best of your ability? Maybe feeling out of wind or sore of muscle and ready to give up along the way? Sensing that every step is bringing you closer and closer to the finish line and “prize”?

Many of us have experienced looking up to, admiring, and wanting to be like other people, perhaps famous persons, perhaps those we have or want as friends. Especially when we were younger, we wanted to dress like them, act like them, have the same values as them. How does our life look, what might our life look like, if we try to be like Jesus in our living, our loving, our dying?

GOSPEL READING:  Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus tells yet another parable using the image of a vineyard. Jesus could count on those religious authorities perceiving that the vineyard represented the whole people of Israel who were lovingly planted and carefully tended by God throughout their history, including both the exodus and the exile. In several places the Bible compare the people of Israel with a vine taken from Egypt, planted and cultivated by God in Palestine, chosen by God, loved by God, and blessed by God, given every advantage and every opportunity, God’s protection and God’s guidance and God’s promises. When he tells of the wicked tenants disrespecting, rejecting, and killing the owner’s son, throwing him out of the vineyard, is that moment full of anxiety and tension… do these religious leaders who are already plotting his death sense that there is a not-so-hidden point to the story, one that involves them… do the others who are also listening to the story hold their breaths, open their eyes wide, and look at those chief priests, those elders, those Pharisees, all those who are so proud and pious and – in their own eyes – almost perfect?

Who is the “they” who are bold enough to answer Jesus, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death?”

Jesus tells all those who are living in that role of wicked tenants – “I tell YOU…” he says – that God will take the kingdom away from them and give it to someone who will produce the fruits of the kingdom. He tells them that the Scriptures about a rejected stone becoming the cornerstone will be fulfilled.

Jesus is the son sent into the vineyard. Within days, not even a week, of the telling of this story, they had Jesus on the cross dying. But the story unfolding here on earth did not end there.

A MEDITATION

Some Christian people listen to the song from the prophet Isaiah about the failed vineyard… they listen to the similar song expressed by Jesus in the parable of the wicked tenants… and all they think they are hearing is a tune about God’s favor turning away from the Jews and towards the Gentiles, away from Israel and towards the Church. And they think to themselves, we think to ourselves, WE are God’s new vineyard, WE are God’s other and better tenants… WE, the Church, are good… WE, the Church, are faithful… WE, the Church, are producing a great harvest, will produce a great harvest, we are “paying the rent” for all that God has invested in us. 

But I wonder about my own faith and faithfulness sometimes. Do YOU wonder about yours?

This parable that Jesus tells is ultimately about “WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?” In other words, “WHO is the owner, WHO has the authority, WHO is the boss, and who works for WHOM?” In the parable Jesus tells, those tenants who are working in the vineyard feel as if THEY are in charge, should be in charge, or want to be in charge. They rebel and they revolt. They murder and seize control. When and where and how in YOUR life – your journey on this earth, your pilgrimage as a Christian – do YOU – do I – try to be in charge even of God…

lay aside our humility and take up our arrogance…

put aside our shame and embrace our sinfulness…

forget about our servanthood in favor of our self-centeredness…

reject obedience in favor of doing what we want, how we want, when we want? 

Don’t confuse the Creator and the creature. Don’t confuse ownership and stewardship. 

What you and I deserve for grabbing Jesus, throwing him out of our life, helping to kill him, and trying to live without him is punishment and death. So why is Christ – crucified, buried, and now risen – offering us the broken bread and the poured wine at his table if it isn’t to forgive, strengthen, and empower us with undeserved grace? Jesus quotes from the Scriptures this morning, saying,

    “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;

  this was the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes.”     

To the mystery of undeserved suffering JESUS brings the deeper mystery of unmerited love. 

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