Who Are the Wicked Tenants?: Lectionary Reflections on Matthew 21:33-39

This parable has something to say about the fact that we cannot control God's merciful, continual outreach to others. Even though we know full well that they have used up all nine of their lives and all three of their strikes, we are not the ones who get to say when they have used up all their chances with God. Even though they have pushed their luck, blown their opportunities, gotten on our last nerve, and brought us to the end of our rope, we can't call a halt to the height, depth, or duration of the mercy of God. And the same is true when we turn our eyes to the person in the mirror.

Even without the three evangelists' specific statement of the vineyard owner's actions, those listening, if they had applied the parable to their own actions with regard to Jesus, would have been angry. The parable has a bite to it no matter how you look at it.

It all but forces us to look at our lives, our specific attitudes and actions, in light of whether they represent an embrace or a rejection of the message of Jesus, the Son of God. As Christians we do well to focus not so much on what the passage has to say about Jewish leaders as what it implies about Christians. The "others" to whom the vineyard is given over in verse 41 are also responsible to the owner, charged with producing the fruits of the kingdom (v. 43).

What implications might this parable hold for how we are producing a harvest for God's kingdom in our personal and public lives? What would this parable have to say to that troubling relationship we have with our child, our parent? What does it have to say to our inability to forgive ourselves? What does it have to say to us as we live, knowing that someone, whose opinion matters deeply to us, condemns us in some central way? What does this parable have to do with our reflection on the criminal justice system, the death penalty? What relevance might it have to our responsibility to help people in our society who, some would say, have brought their troubles upon themselves?

The wicked tenants try God's patience.

So do we. We don't know how they will respond next to the extended, undeserved mercy of God. How will we?

9/25/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.
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