Magazine article The Christian Century

Living by the Word: Dinner Reservations: The Troubling Parable of the Vineyard Has Been Left at the Doorstep of the Church

Magazine article The Christian Century

Living by the Word: Dinner Reservations: The Troubling Parable of the Vineyard Has Been Left at the Doorstep of the Church

Article excerpt

Sunday, October 2

Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom" (Matt. 21:42-43).

THE FIRST Sunday of October is World Communion Sunday. Christians around the world remember that we are linked with brothers and sisters of all colors and languages. There is no better time to remind ourselves of this truth than in these days, when so much of the world is divided into a multitude of warring camps.

Chances are many of us seeking a communion text will ignore Matthew 21:33-46. It is hard to see what connections this parable has with us, the table and Christians the world over. We may turn to those other lectionary texts in Psalm 19 or Exodus 20 instead. Or maybe, in the middle of a busy week, we may just dust off an old communion meditation.

Scholars say that this Sunday's parable is an allegory. The parable goes into great detail about the owner's love and care for his farm. He planted the vineyard with his own hands, put a fence around the vineyard, dug a winepress and even constructed a watchtower to protect the vineyard from the enemy. He then employed tenants. God is certainly the landowner. We know that the slaves the owner sends to receive his share of the crops represent prophets and martyrs who have died for the faith through the years. We also know that the owner's son who was killed by the tenants was God's son.

The tenants are the Pharisees. These religious officials rejected those whom God sent. The story says they were furious when Jesus directed his harsh words toward them and called them the poorest of tenants.

But here we are at Holy Communion. The table is set, the candles are lit and the people are waiting. Is it stretching this allegory too far to say the Lord's table could well be the vineyard where "'we who earnestly repent of our sins and are in love and in charity with our neighbors draw near" to be fed and renewed? Could we keepers of the table be the tenants too? God left us with this vineyard to tend and to make productive. When God gave it to us the fields were lush and beautiful. What kind of tenants have we been?

Have we been good tenants of this bread and this wine? …

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