October 04, 2017
By Kristen Provost Switzer.
Scripture: Matthew 21: 33-46 (NRSV)
‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
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. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
During my hospital chaplaincy training, I learned that people often repeat themselves, even if only subconsciously, when they perceive that they have not been heard. This parable is the second of three parables in a row that Jesus tells about a vineyard. Indeed, Jesus foretells his death for the third time in between these parables, another topic that the people around him failed to understand, though Jesus kept repeating it.
Perhaps as Jesus told these parables again and again, his disciples and the people of modern day Palestine-Israel began to feel some cognitive dissonance between the society around them and the way that Jesus was telling them that society could be... if only people would listen. As people of God, we often find ourselves at odds with societal standards of living. We can take heart in our own immediate reaction to the beating and murders of the vineyard owner’s servants and eventually, their own son, and our alarm in thinking that the murderous tenants’ behavior is not normal.
In an era when mass gun violence is unprecedented as a daily occurrence, when children and their teachers are murdered in their classrooms, when concert-goers unwillingly become statistics of the latest record for gun violence casualties and deadliest mass shooting, every ounce of our beings should be crying, screaming to God that this is not normal.
Or is it the new normal?
And if we don’t want it to be, what can we even do about it?
The belief that humanity will always reach for the greater good, Jesus’ tenacity in retelling his parables, the fact that we worship a Stillspeaking God are reasons enough to believe that if we keep speaking up and telling our parables, we can change the world. Jesus, who was such a strong believer in nonviolence that he willingly marched to the cross, calls us to follow him down this narrow path still today so that gun violence, like the mass crucifixions of Jesus’ time, may one day be a thing of the past. And isn’t that the Good News?
Stillspeaking God, help us to keep speaking our own parables, even when others don’t seem to get it or choose not to listen. Let our praise for the Stillspeaking God move us from prayers and thoughts to action to be change that this world so badly needs. Amen.
Rev. Kristen Provost Switzer is the associate pastor as Newton Congregational Church.
October 04, 2017
Kristen Provost Switzer.