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Called to be Caretakers
Mt. 21:33-46
Doug in Riverside

Though I have never myself grown grapes or apples, I have always enjoyed looking at vineyards and orchards. I’ve enjoyed times when my family and I have picked our own apples in a commercial orchard. I’ve been impressed by the hope and the investment in the future represented by newly-planted grapevines and apple trees. And so I am captivated by the beginning sentence of Jesus’ parable: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower, and leased it out to tenants, and went into another country.” (RSV)

I think of the care that the landowner must have invested in building the vineyard, and the trust that the landowner must have invested in the tenants. I think of the pain and hurt and disappointment and yes, rage, the landowner must have felt with the way the tenants treated his servants and his son. And so as I read the parable, I find myself asking the question Jesus asked: What will the owner of the vineyard do? What would I do if I were the owner?

Jesus’ parables invite our participation in the stories he tells. We are not to stand back from the parables as literary analysts or allegorical specialists. We are instead to enter the world of the story and become the characters in the tale that is told. And oftentimes, we are invited to supply our own ending to the parable, or to write the next chapter.

Today’s parable: very easy to use against one’s enemies. This is the use to which Matthew puts the parable. In Matthew’s appropriation of Jesus’ parable, the story of the wicked tenants becomes an attack on the “chief priests and the Pharisees,” and a justification for the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Roman army in 70 AD. More of a challenge to apply to oneself, to become each of the figures in the narrative.

The worldwide church as God’s vineyard: as tenants or caretakers of that which comes from God and belongs to God and shall return to God, how have we conducted ourselves? World communion: the church throughout the whole wide earth. Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative, black and white, traditional and contemporary, etc.

Kathleen Norris writes in Amazing Grace - A Vocabulary of Faith: “Just a look around at the motley crew assembled in Jesus’ name, myself among them, lets me know how unlikely it all is. The whole lot of us, warts and all, just seems so improbable, so absurd, I figure that only Christ would be so foolish, or so powerful, [or so wise], as to have brought us together[--and to keep us together].” (p. 163)

And yet, we are so often critical of other churches and their customs and practices and faith. There are those who say of FCCUCC that we are not a believing church. Which means, I suppose, that we don’t fit their particular definition of believing or feel comfortable with their particular Christology. And we in turn, as progressive Christians, have our own ways of criticizing other churches.

Perhaps a little more human humility is called for. “The whole lot of us, warts and wounds and all, is just so improbable, so absurd, that only Christ is so foolish, or so powerful, or so wise, as to have brought us together and to keep us together.” Not just as isolated individual congregations, but as a worldwide communion of saints and sinners. For after all, the Christian church “throughout the whole wide earth” is not an institution we own, but a community and a communion for which we are caretakers.