The Battle for the Vineyard 2011. (A sermon on Matthew 21:33-42)

Those who missed the presentation of Miko Peled last week missed something that was both informative and, at points, gut-wrenching.

Having heard numerous folk now share their reflections on Miko’s address, I appreciate that different people took different things from his presentation. What impacted me the most though were the images of military violence that Miko shared – violence that he had seen first-hand from both sides.

Those who remember Operation Cast Lead – the three-week military attack on Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces that began on December 27, 2008 – will remember that the assault was justified by the government on the grounds that they had to stop the firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza on Israeli cities. And there is no doubt that this was a real issue and that those who live within the range of Qassam rockets do live in fear of having one land on them.

Miko indeed knew first-hand of the effects of these rockets as his mother-in-law (I think it was) lived in one of the towns that had been targeted by Gazan militants. He was in the family home when he heard the warning sirens go off, heard the rocket go overhead, land and explode not far from where he was.  Indeed, I think he said in this case that it fell right adjacent to a kindergarten and that some of the children were cut by spraying glass and that a good number of these children were understandably traumatised by the experience.

And Miko did not in any way make light of the effect that these rocket attacks have had on the civilian population he was involved with there, but he said that when he and his father-in-law went and looked at the impact that the rocket had made in the ground when it landed (which he said was about the size of the impact of a bowling ball) that he couldn’t help but compare this to the impact made by a one-tonne bomb when it lands, which, according to Miko, will take out an entire block. And children who are caught within range of that bomb when it lands won’t be traumatised. They’ll be vaporized!

And Miko pointed out that in Operation Cast Lead, the IDF (which Miko had himself once been a part of, and of which his father had been a senior leader) dropped 100 tonnes of those bombs on Gaza – not in the entirety of Operation Cast Lead, but on the first day! And when you consider that Gaza is one of the most densely-populated civilian cities in the world, you understand why the civilian casualties were so horrendously high (understand but not excuse).

Of course it’s hard for most of us to get too worked up about thing like this, and not only because it happened a couple of years ago but because, frankly, we hear about this sort of thing all the time, and not only in Israel/Palestine but all over the place – in Libya, in Syria, Bahrain, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sierra Leone, and in this country too!  It may not be as colourful or as organised here and yet we are no strangers to violence – racial violence, domestic violence, criminal violence, gun violence, crimes against children…

And Jesus told them another parable, and it was a violent parable!

Jesus said, “listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a wall around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went abroad.”

Thus begins what might have been a lovely story of a beautiful vineyard, but which instead depicts a vineyard that gradually goes to seed through the mismanagement of its tenants, though the focus of the parable is not so much on their mismanagement of the property that is put into their care as it is on the callous disregard these people show towards the rights of the legal owner.

When harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenant farmers to collect his produce. But the farmers took his servants and beat one, killed another, and attacked another with stones. Again, he sent other servants to them, a greater number than the first, but the tenant farmers treated them the same way.”

The behaviour of the tenant-farmers is vicious. What’s more it seems completely irrational!  Even if they were useless tenants and couldn’t come up with the rent, why would they act with such total disregard for the law or their relationship with their landlord?  Were they on drugs?  That’s the first thing that comes to mind for me when I think back on my role as de facto landlord for the church over the years, where we have had the odd odd tenant.

I well remember certain residents of our properties here screaming and carrying-on on the front lawn of the rectory, and while none of them ever became physically violent with me, things got pretty hairy at times!

And, yes, that does reflect (at least in part) the sort of people that we have chosen to take on as tenants at certain times over the years, and perhaps we should have selected our tenants a little more carefully.  And yet surely that same question has to be directed here at the landowner.  What was he thinking? Why didn’t he choose his tenants more carefully?   For this guy’s tenants make the worst of our tenants look angelic!  These people don’t just withhold rent, they engage in deliberate acts of violence towards the landlord and towards his representatives!

And, as I say, the acts of violence are senseless. If these tenants had wanted to keep the master at a safe distance, why didn’t they just give him some token amount such as might have kept him satisfied? He didn’t seem to be very hard to please! Or why didn’t the tenants try to give their master the impression that his servants had never shown up to collect the rent, by killing them quietly and disposing of their bodies secretly? No! These people seem to be completely unashamed in the way they behave! It’s as if they had forgotten that they had a master? Certainly they acted as if he didn’t exist!

And yet the only thing more incomprehensible than the mindless violence of the tenants is the naïve optimism of the landlord, who keeps sending his messengers and servants, somehow assuming that the situation is going to improve, and he believes this for reasons that are completely unfathomable!

 

Instead of realising, after the assault on his first servant that these tenants need to be dealt with, this vineyard owner turns a blind eye, so it seems, in the hope that this might be just a one-off.  So he sends a second, and a third servant, and so on, into the vineyard, and some come back badly bloodied, and some never return at all, yet still the penny just doesn’t seem to drop!

And so instead of working it out, after these tenants have treated a whole line of his trusted employees with utter contempt, the landlord, we are told, decides to send his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’

Whatever made him think that they would respect his son?  We could have told him what would happen.  The indications were all there that these tenants were never going to show any respect to the rightful owner of the vineyard.  Why give them another chance?  Why not just nuke the lot of them?  What was it that got into the landlord’s head that made him think, ‘yeah … let’s give them another chance?’  What sort of landlord is this?  What sort of set-up is this where the master just puts up with an ongoing cycle of endless violence?  What sort of world are we talking about here?  This is our world, isn’t it – our history, our story! These tenants seem strangely familiar, don’t they?

And so, we’re told, the tenants deal with the landlord’s son with the same contempt with which they dealt with his servants. Indeed, they go all the way this time, not only brutalising him but killing him. This, as I say, comes as no real surprise to us.  This is how the vineyard operates.  We know that.  This is the sort of treatment the landlord has always received at the hands of his tenants. What made him think that his son would fare any better?

And Jesus concludes His story with a question, what is the owner of the vineyard going to do now?’ 

The disciples are quick to reply Hell nuke the lot of ’em!  But will he?  Maybe he has another son, or other servants whose lives he is ready to sacrifice?  Jesus accepts the answer of the disciples – that there will be a final reckoning and that the tenants will have to face the consequences of their actions, and that justice will be done … but when?

And so the story closes and nothing is resolved.  The master now has no rent, no servants, no vineyard and now … no son!  ‘He who has ears, let him hear!’

It astonishes me that Jesus leaves this story where he does, but maybe that’s because that’s where we are in the story. Personally I would have appreciated a final scene, depicting a vineyard is at peace, with a caring community of committed labourers tending the vines, and everyone sharing the wine together in the evenings?  Why can’t the story end that way?

It’s the master’s fault!  Why didn’t stand up and act like a master sooner?  Why did he have to send one servant after another to get beaten up and rejected, and then his own son!   What sort of master is this?  His servants have been rejected, His son is dead, the vineyard’s ownership in doubt and his response is still in question!  Meanwhile, the tenants run wild in their violence and stupidity.  And yet this is exactly where we find ourselves today!  Here we are, 21 centuries later, and we are still stuck at this same point in the story!  The vineyard is still in business, the master is still on the scene, but the evil tenants are alive and well too, and so the killings and the violence and the senseless bloodshed continues!

Which brings me back to Miko Peled.

I mentioned the impact he made on me earlier, but I fear I may have depicted him as a prophet of doom – only here to lament the terrible crimes that he has witnessed. On the contrary, I found him to be a man of extraordinary hope!

I had the privilege of spending a bit of time with Miko while he was here and it became obvious very quickly that he is a man with a deep love for people – Jewish people, Christian people, Muslim people, Israeli, Arabs, and all of us, and that he had a deep-seated vision of a world where people of all races and creeds could live together in genuine and lasting peace.

And that vision of the vineyard frames our parable too, I believe – a Biblical vision of lions and lambs lying down together in a world where there is no fear or violence of any kind.

We are not there yet. On the contrary, the battle for the vineyard continues, and blood continues to be spilt, and yet the Landlord will not let go of His vineyard either, but will continue to send his messengers.

We do not know when the battle will end, yet some things we do know.

  1. That violence, pain and often seemingly fruitless struggle has always characterised the battle for the vineyard.
  2. That the master is not deterred by this. He will not let his vineyard go.
  3. That it has already cost the master a great deal to stay involved with His vineyard, and that He is willing to pay that price.

Hear the parable of the vineyard!  It is a story that takes us from the time when women and men first began to tear away at each other and tear away from their creator.  It is a story that takes us through the blood and suffering of Christ on the cross, and finds us here today, as blood continues to be spilt and the battle continues to rage around us.

When will it all end?  We do not know.  But we do know that the master has committed his own flesh and blood to the struggle, and so we do believe that the day will come when all of us who have been a part of that long, hard battle will be able to lay down our swords and shields and come together at that great homestead overlooking the vineyard, where we’ll pull up our chairs alongside the master and raise our glasses with Him in celebration – yes, the Master is finally back in control of the vineyard and yes, the vineyard is finally at peace! Amen.

You can hear the audio of this sermon on Matthew 21:33-42 click here.

First Preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, October 2nd, 2011.


Rev. David B. Smith
Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of four
www.FatherDave.org

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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2 Responses to The Battle for the Vineyard 2011. (A sermon on Matthew 21:33-42)

  1. agnoi says:

    I used to call Pope John Paul 2 the good keeper of the vinyard. Not so sure now that the vinyard is well kept. Respect your stance though…I look forward to the year 2112 giving clear signs that this is the inception of the Lords millenial rule….Lets see how the tenants will treat the owners son this time around.

  2. dennis timewell says:

    I have read this 3 times in the last week or so and it me think more every time. We are lucky he is so patient or else we would all be nuked – or most of us

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