Human action is grounded in what honors our own selves rather than in what does honor to God. We need constant reminding that it is God who gives the necessities for life: a place to plant, the food that grows, and the peace of mind and heart that comes from being known, loved, and forgiven.
In homiletical reflections from 2005 in Homily Service, Aaron Couch sets the readings in context and Ron Anderson asks a question that may help the preacher guide listeners to reflection on their own ways of living their faith.
The gospel text for today is characterized as a “parable,” but is in essence an allegory that casts the religious authorities as rebellious tenants.
Imagery for the parable may have been drawn from Isaiah’s “love song” concerning his beloved’s vineyard. Just as Isaiah announced God’s judgment on the leaders of Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C., so Jesus. . . believes that the temple authorities are devoted to their own power and privilege rather than to God.
The parable becomes a telling of salvation history, with the landowner’s slaves representing the prophets sent by God. The story reaches its critical turning point with the arrival of the son, who represents Jesus himself. While it is unlikely that there were any circumstances under which actual tenants could have taken an inheritance by killing the rightful heir, historical plausibility is not the parable’s purpose. Instead, the story functions to condemn the Jewish leadership for rejecting Jesus as Messiah. . .
. . . It is important to resist reading this parable in any manner that suggests the church will supersede and replace Israel as God’s covenant people. Certainly the church’s history of persecuting Jews calls for a different reading of the text. In addition, the parable itself is not concerned with the status of God’s covenant with the Jewish people. Jesus directs his words specifically against the temple authorities, not the Jewish people. Unlike Isaiah 5, judgment does not fall on the vineyard itself, but rather on the rebellious tenants. –– Aaron J. Couch
The “song of the vineyard” . . . suggests a tragic story of romance ending in betrayal. The hearer might suppose at first that the vineyard represents the beloved’s bride, who has been unfaithful. The beloved makes accusations and demands an explanation for his disappointed hopes.
The poem effectively hides its true meaning until the end, when it is revealed that the vineyard represents the kingdom of Israel. In this way, the poem delivers the announcement of judgment with devastating power. Isaiah of Jerusalem denounced the betrayal of covenant loyalty on the part of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the eighth century B.C. The prophet’s consistent themes are summed up in parallel accusations in verse 7: no justice, no covenant fidelity (righteousness). Instead, violence and oppression are the norm for the covenant people’s life. –– Aaron J. Couch
Paul offers his own experience as an indicator of the true value of faith in Christ and encourages the believers in Philippi to live with the same devotion. The enemies of the cross, whose god is the belly and whose glory is their shame, could potentially be libertines devoted to sensual pleasures. –– Aaron J. Couch
The RCL reading from Philippians suggests that the vineyard might be worthless apart from knowing Christ Jesus as LORD. As Isaac Watts wrote, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
In what ways do we express our desire to know Christ today? What “value” do we place on knowing Christ? —E. Byron Anderson
E. Byron Anderson is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship and the Director of the Nellie B. Ebersole Program in Music Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.
Aaron Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
Homily Service 38, no. 11 (2005): 3-14.