Sermon – October 5th 2014
16th Sunday after Pentecost
By Roland Legge
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46
I don’t like today’s passage from Matthew! It has such violent images. Why am I using it? I am using it because it has been used by too many Christians over the centuries to oppress our Jewish brothers and sisters.
First, I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew. Jesus was an Israelite. Jesus never intended to start another religion he only wanted to reform his own.
The Gospel according to Matthew was written by a Jew in a time when there was a lot of pain between Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who didn’t. It was a painful time—not unlike some of the conflicts we have faced in the United Church of Canada which divided congregations. These conflicts divided many families, just like conflicts in the early days of Jesus’ ministry.
The parable of the Vineyard was probably adapted from a Parable that Jesus actually said. In Jesus’ time he was simply wanting to his encourage his followers to keep on going despite the anger by those in power both the Roman Empire and the religious establishment. I need to be clear that the religious establishment did not represent all Jews. There were many who were opposed to their intention to keep the power in the hands of a few people—not unlike the Papacy of today or sometime even our General Council of the United Church.
Sadly, this scripture has been used as justification to abuse and kill Jews throughout the centuries. We must change this way of thinking throughout Christianity. This is why the United Church of Canada has been working hard to build relationships with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Through these relationships we can better understand each other and find ways to work and worship together. This doesn’t mean we are always going to agree. No two Christians or Jews will agree on everything. There is great diversity of views in both religions.
I love this re-telling of the Parable, told by William H. Willimon, which reflects on how Christians have treated Jews. He says:
The church in its dealings with the Jewish people has acted like the bad relations in this parable:
A family, who lived in a beautiful house beside a blue lake, was surprised to hear a knock at the door one morning. There stood at their front door a couple with two children. They were even more surprised when the couple told them, “We are your long-lost relatives from out west. We have come to visit you for just a couple of days. Can we come in?”
The family, though surprised by these relatives whom they had never heard of, graciously received them into their home, and began to graciously entertain them for the next couple of days. After two days had passed, the relatives said that they would like to stay a few days longer. The family graciously agreed.
But then, the family began to notice that their guests, their long-lost relatives, were beginning to behave less like guests and more like permanent residents. The relatives began to redecorate the room they had been given. In fact, they spilled out of the guest room and took over two additional rooms in the house, rearranging the furniture, taking pictures off the walls and putting different pictures there that they had brought with them, and in general, acting as if they owned the place.
Still, the family tried graciously to welcome them and make them feel at home. The trouble was, the guests were beginning to feel a bit too much at home. Two weeks went by, and still the relatives, whom the family thought were only temporary guests, were with them.
One day there was a knock at the door and the family was surprised to see six or seven people standing at the door, holding their suitcases. They had never seen the people before and were startled when their relatives called out from the four rooms they were now occupying in the home, “Oh, those are some of our friends from out west. We told them what a nice house you live in, and invited them to come stay with us and visit. We knew you wouldn’t mind because you are so gracious.”
Well, I won’t go into the rest of the story, but you can probably figure out how it ended. After a couple of months, the family had been reduced to living in only one room of their own house, while their temporary “guests” had taken over the entire house for themselves. Eventually, in dismay, the family – feeling like strangers in their own home – moved away, driven out by those whom they had once received so graciously.
Take this as a parable, akin to the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 21 of the wicked tenants in the vineyard.
Sadly, we Christian began to impose our particular ways on our Jewish brothers and sisters and tried to make them look inferior. We would go to great lengths to destroy their communities. We must not let this happen again.
So what can we get out of today’s Scripture? I think we all fall short of following the way of Jesus and we need to reflect on ourselves. It is against the ways of Jesus to put down his own people.
I believe the Spirit calls upon us in our families and communities to hold each other responsible for following the Great Commandment: love God with all your heart and soul, to love your neighbour as yourself and to honor and respect yourself as a man/woman of God. We are the only ones who can change ourselves and we need to focus on ourselves rather than put others down to lift ourselves up.
Canada is becoming more and more a multi-faith country. I hope we will seek to get to know people of other faiths and philosophies and recognize what we have in common. We can allow our differences to help each of us grow into being more understanding, compassionate and open minded. May the Creator help us, of different faiths, to work together for a better world and let the Spirit lead us to a just, loving and sustainable world that will honor all of Creation.