Sermons 2003-2004

Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church
Who are the Wicked Tenants?
Lent 5C 2004 Luke 20:9-19

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Well, here we are at the tail end of the Lenten season. Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent and next Sunday will be Palm Sunday at the beginning of Holy Week. Easter and Spring seem to be arriving simultaneously this year, at least if the weather of the last several days holds true.

In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus has already reached Jerusalem and entered it. We will celebrate the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday. So we are a little out of sequence for Saint Lukes Gospel. But that is the physical context of this parable familiarly known as the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

Jesus has begun the last phase of his earthly ministry and his teaching and preaching has become stronger, tougher, sharper, more hard-edged. So have his actions. Just before telling this parable, Jesus has taken a lash of cords and whipped the moneychangers out of the Temple. This did not win him any supporters among the Temple priests and scribes. The High Priest, Caiaphas, has become especially incensed that this upstart common carpenter, of no family connections and power, has assumed the authority to do this. These powerful members of the Temple cult see what Jesus did not as a cleansing of the Temple, as the Gospel writers understood it and wrote it down, but as a direct threat to them and to their authority and prestige. They particularly see it as a threat to the civil, social, and religious order of things and it is on this basis that they will soon bring Jesus before the Roman authorities and see that he is punished in the Roman way as such a threat. Jesus will die on the Cross.

It has become a tense time in Jerusalem. Jesus is very well aware of the feeling against him in the Temple hierarchy and among the Temple authorities. He is very aware that they will be one of the penultimate causes of his painful, gory, miserable, and shameful death. And so he tells the parable of the wicked tenants. These same Temple authorities understand that Jesus is telling this parable against them and they are angry and begin to plan their move against them.

Jesus was also speaking to another audience: the ordinary people. They would have been familiar with the physical and economic contexts of the parable. Judea in this time was beset by economic trouble and labor unrest. There were many absentee landlords who rented out their land to tenant farmers in this way. Rents were seldom collected in money, which was in short supply everywhere, but in kind a stated and fixed portion of the potential harvest, no matter how well the harvest met or failed to meet those forecast expectations. Or there would be a fixed and stated percentage of the actual harvest.

The Gospel writers and the Church since then have traditionally understood this parable as an allegory. What is an allegory? The word is derived from the Greek term allegoria, meaning the description of one thing under the image of another. An allegory is a story in which people, things, and happenings have another meaning and is used to teach or explain by means of symbolic representation, narration or description. And just a reminder that parables were not intended by either Jesus or the Gospel writers to be taken literally.

The traditional symbolic interpretation of this parable is this: The owner of the vineyard is the symbol representing God the Father. The vineyard is a symbol of the Creation and Gods heavy investment of time, work, care, patience, and love, with the anticipation of a fruitful return. The vineyard had been in the hands of these tenants for a long time, probably symbolic of the salvation history of Israel prior to Jesus.

The tenants are symbolic of the authorities both civil and religious. These tenants manage the vineyard in their own interest and not Gods. When Jesus whipped the moneychangers out of the Temple he gave notice that there would be an end to this notion. The tenants have forgotten that they were intended to be stewards and servants of the Lord, doing Gods work faithfully in the vineyard, in the Creation. Instead they are seized with the notion that they can take over the vineyard exclusively for their own purposes and profit, even if they must maim and murder to do it.

The three servants sent to collect the owners share of the vintage are symbolic of the prophets, including John the Baptist, who were persecuted, disregarded, and some of whom were even killed by the corrupt leaders of their time for their stern warnings to ancient Israel.

The beloved son is of course Jesus himself. Jesus will be taken to the slaughter by these tenants, these religious and civil authorities. But that will not be the end of the story. Jesus warns them that there will be a serious consequence to their actions if they persist in their mistaken and misguided notion of killing him and trying to own the vineyard exclusively for themselves. (1) God will give the Word, the Good News to another people, a new Israel, a new creation that Christians have traditionally considered foretold by the prophet Isaiah: Thus says the Lord,
Do not remember the former things, or consider things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

That is the Tradition. And it speaks to us with power across the centuries.

But consider this possibility: How would many people of today perceive this parable? Would the same allegorical symbols have quite so powerful a meaning?

On the farm of my youth, tenant farming was a way of life. There was a row of tenant houses on the dirt road that wound its way through the fields behind the farmhouse. At the end of it were the houses. Black and white farmers and their families lived in them peaceably with each other, each depending on the other to help. Every winter the bargain was struck with my father. Free provision of the house always entered into it. I dont remember who paid the light bill. The water was from the well, a bucket at a time.

Sharecropping was generally the basis of the contract agreement. There were generally disputes and a relationship with the owner of the farm rarely lasted more than several years before a tenant family would pack up their meager furniture and head out to another farm. My father, the owner of the land the vineyard so to speak could hardly be allegorized as a loving God. And he himself always saw to the division of what profits there were. There was often disagreement over the shares and occasionally some minor violence rocks thrown at him as he came to ask a family to move on so he could install a new set after a disagreement. And who knows who had the truth of the matter. The real truth was that he owned the land and could enforce his will. He had the power. I wonder if those tenant farmer families understood the Parable of the Wicked Tenants the traditional way.

And take today in many parts of the world, where people are eking out a miserable survival barely existence. In the Congo just this week was a report on the Internet on MSN of pygmies forced off their land by deforestation lumbering which denuded not only the forests but chased the game animals away. You would think that people so poor and destitute would not be subjected to demands for money collection of any sort. But the worst thing is that gangs of rebel soldiers come to collect money tribute. And where there is none they kill and eat family members. The article is entitled, On the Trail of the Cannibal Rebels.

One pygmy named Amazuti saw his mother and several siblings slaughtered and cut up like animals for eating. Another report was of the human meat being salted before cooking. Amazuti is a recent convert to Christianity and is awaiting his baptism. I wonder how he would read the parable of the wicked tenants when he hears it for the first time. The ever-ineffective United Nations raised its hands in horror and sent five thousand soldiers. The nearest ones are one hundred miles away. They might as well have stayed home. (2)

The list of horrors in the world goes on and on. We are the tenants in the vineyard in our time. We are its stewards. How good at it have we been?

1. allegory in Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition; Fred B. Craddock, Luke, John Knox Press, 1990, pp 233-234; William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, revised edition, Westminster Press, 1975, pp 245-247; Synthesis, 28 March 2004.