Sun, 19 September 2021
1 Corinthians 16: 13-24; St. Matthew 21: 33-42.
In today’s Gospel, Christ is trying to help His listeners understand who He was, who sent Him, and why it was that the religious leaders rejected Him. As Christians, we grow up understanding that Christ is “God the Son”, the second person of the Holy Trinity; that God the Father, the first person of the Holy Trinity, sent His Son to return the world to righteousness; and that the Jewish leaders rejected His Son because He did not fit into their plans. We know this to be true, and it is true. But our acceptance of these facts is facilitated by a Christian worldview that makes them seem natural; they simply fit into place. But the Jews did not have such a worldview; rather, they had developed one over time that made rejection of the Christ seem to be good and natural.
Psychologically, it is much easier for us to ignore or reject data that challenges our expectations than it is to adjust our expectations around it [sic]. Even the Jews that loved Jesus and His message were struggling with wrapping their minds around the Truth and the implications of His coming.
So Christ gave them parables like the one we heard today. Because stories are not expected to be real, people disengage their ideological filters a bit when hearing or reading them. So when people hear of the landowner, they naturally sympathize with his attempts to regain control of his property; when they hear of the actions of the vinedressers/husbandmen, they are naturally revolted by their wickedness; and their sympathy and revulsion will naturally peak when they hear about the mission, rejection, and murder of the landowner’s son. This parable [and other] created a space in their minds and gave them concepts that would eventually allow them to more fully understand everything about The Christ. [the prophecies also served this function, but their (mis)use by the religious leaders meant that not everyone would be able to see them correctly]. And once they saw Him in Truth, they had to decide what to do next: kill Him or render to Him his due.
So what does this story do for all of us who already know Christ to be the Messiah, the Son of God? Well, I have given you a rule of thumb for interpreting Scripture that I want you to use today: when the Scriptures criticize the Jews, they are really criticizing us. A bigot might use today’s reading to reinforce his self-righteousness and anti-Semitism; but the Christian uses it to learn greater humility and repentance.
Instead of the Jews, imagine us as the folks running the winepress. This should not be hard to do: we have more control over the patch of dirt that God has leased to us than any people anywhere or anytime. What would we do if the landowner sent emissaries to collect the fruit of His land from us? This may be uncomfortable, but it isn’t hard: what would we do if God asked for what should naturally go to Him as His due? Or to phrase it in a way that is easier for us to understand: what would we do if God were to ask more from us than we wanted to give? What would we do if He made demands of us that did not fit our view of what God should demand?
I can tell you what we would do because we do it every day. We ignore Him. Even when He sends His Son among us to show that He is serious: we ignore Him. Some of us do it on purpose, but most don’t even recognize Him or His authority. We don’t have room in our lives for the real God, so we ignore Him and worship a false imitation of Him that demands nothing from us and is not worthy of true adoration and sacrifice.
“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers [who ignored his prophets and His Son]?…
We cannot ignore Him forever. When we see Him in Truth, we will have to decide. Why wait? The Truth is here. Christ is here. We must make our choice: violence… or repentance, humility, and worship?
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”