Daily Reading & Meditation

Sunday (October 5): The kingdom taken from the unrepentant

Scripture: Matthew 21:33-43

33 "Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; 35 and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. 37 Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.' 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' 39 And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" 41 They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons." 42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it."

Meditation: What can a parable about the mis-managment of a vineyard tell us about the kingdom of God? Jesus' audience could easily identify with the story about an absentee landlord and his not-so-good tenants. The hills of Galilee were lined with numerous vineyards, and it was quite common for the owners to let out their estates to tenants. Many did it because they could make a lot of money easily by collecting high rent from their tenants. Their wealthy status allowed them to travel and own houses in other places.

Jesus' story, however, was unsettling to some of his audience. Why did the scribes and Pharisees in particular feel offended? Jesus' parable contained both a prophetic message and a warning to the religious community and its leaders. Isaiah had spoken of the house of Israel as "the vineyard of the Lord" (Isaiah 5:7). Isaiah warned his people that their unfaithfulness would yield bad fruit if they did not repent and change. Jesus' listeners would likely understand this parable as a healthy reminder that God will in due time root out bad fruit and put an end to rebellion.

What does Jesus' parable tell us about God and the way he deals with his people? First, it tells us of God's generosity and trust. The vineyard is well equipped with everything the tenants need. The owner went away and left the vineyard in the hands of the tenants. God, likewise trusts us enough to give us freedom to run life as we choose. This parable also tells us of God's patience and justice. Not once, but many times he forgives the tenants their debts.  But while the tenants take advantage of the owner's patience, his judgment and justice prevail in the end.

Jesus foretold both his death and his ultimate triumph. He knew he would be rejected by his own people and be killed, but he also knew that would not be the end. After rejection would come glory - the glory of resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. The Lord continues to bless his people today with the gift of his kingdom. And he promises that we will bear much fruit if we abide in him and remain faithful to him (see John 15:1-11). He entrusts each of us with his gifts and grace and he gives each of us a particular work to do in his vineyard - the body of Christ. He promises that our labor, especially what we do for him, will not be in vain if we persevere with faith to the end (see 1 Corinthians 15:58). We can expect trials and difficulties as we labor for the Lord, and even persecution from those who oppose God's kingdom. But in the end we will see triumph. Do you labor for the Lord with joyful hope and with confidence in his victory?

"Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us; for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. O most merciful redeemer, friend, and brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, for you own sake." (prayer of St. Richard of Chichester, 13th century)

Psalm 80:8-9,12-19

8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and plant it.
9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see;  have regard for this vine,
15 the stock which your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance!
17 But let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name!
19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts! let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Christ the great stone, by an anonymous early author from the Greek church

"'Christ is called a stone for two reasons. First, because his foundation is solid and no one who stands upon him will fall victim to deceitful charms or be moved by the storms of persecution. Second, Christ is called a stone because in him is the ultimate destruction of the wicked, for just as everything which collides with a stone is shattered while the stone itself remains intact, so also everyone who opposes the Christian faith will himself be ruined, but Christianity will remain untouched. This is the sense in which Christ is the great stone. 'Whoever falls on it will be broken to pieces, but it will crush those upon whom it falls' (Psalm 118:22-23; Isaiah 8:14-15). It is one thing to be broken but something else again to be crushed, for sizeable pieces of whatever is broken remain, but whatever gets crushed is reduced to dust and utterly eliminated. The stone does not break those who fall upon it, but they break themselves who fall on the stone. Their destruction therefore is not attributable to the stone’s strength but to the violence with which they fall upon it." (excerpt from INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 40, the Greek fathers).

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author Don Schwager © 2014 Servants of the Word

Scripture quotations from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Citation references for quotes from the writings of the early church fathers.

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