Jesus’ journey has at last brought him to Jerusalem. Daily he teaches in the Temple courtyard where disciples would gather around their various rabbis to hear the word of God interpreted, listen to stories, and debate. It soon becomes apparent that Jesus’ stories have an edge to them. People gather around him, some hoping for a heated debate, some to hang him up in something heretical.
“Once upon a time, . . . ” Jesus begins, and a story unfolds that, like a bad TV show, is laced with murder and mayhem, the tenants so obviously crooks, the landlord so obviously innocent that when Jesus asks his listeners what the owner should do, they are unanimous: Throw the bums out.
“Once upon a time,” the prophet Nathan had said, “a rich man stole, slaughtered, and ate a poor man’s favorite pet lamb.” “Oh,” cried King David, “that’s awful! He should pay dearly for that.” Nathan looked at the king—who had just taken Uriah’s wife as his own and arranged for Uriah to die in battle and said, “You are the man.” (See 2 Samuel 12.)
But Jesus tells his story in a more direct fashion. “You,” he says to the scribes and Pharisees, “have forgotten who owns the vineyard.”
I sometimes wonder if I am not a Pharisee. I find it hard not to think of my faith as a possession. I catch myself thinking of my church, my sanctuary, my pew, my beliefs.
What a relief to know that nobody owns God’s creation or our faith in God’s purposes. It all belongs to God alone and comes to us by God’s grace. And that means I am free to follow Jesus, even to Jerusalem, even to a cross.
If I am only a tenant, a sojourner in God’s creation, then how should I treat the earth and those who sojourn with me?
The Decalogue in Exodus 20 need not be considered a litmus test of righteousness or religious purity but rather a declaration that lies near the heart of the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel. The Torah is the way the people say yes to God’s saving initiatives. Psalm 19:1-6 links the gift of the Torah to other acts of divine creation. The balance of the psalm celebrates the strength and beauty of the Torah and moves the reader behind the Torah to its Giver, thereby proclaiming the gospel of the well-ordered life. In Philippians 3 Paul speaks of himself as leaning into the future in response to the manner in which Jesus Christ has invaded his own life. The parable in Matthew 21 presents a direct and bold affinity for living in accordance with the gospel, producing “fruits of the kingdom.”
• Read Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20. If you are unable to live out the Commandments, which ones would you remove from the list?
• Read Psalm 19. If you monitored your speech for a day, how would you describe the tone and content? What one gift would you petition God for?
• Read Philippians 3:4b-14. How is your church and its people a sign for those who need hope and new life?
• Read Matthew 21:33-46. Where in your church, among the members and in the various meetings and activities, have you seen evidence that folks “have forgotten who owns the vineyard”?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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