Today’s lessons are full of vineyards.
I know next to nothing about vineyards. I grew up in the mountains of southern West Virginia—no vineyards there.
My Grandmother and my uncle Lee had grape vines but they don’t count as a vineyard.
Connecticut has some vineyards, but I’ve never visited any of them.
And given the things we’re told about vineyards, I’m not sure I ever want to visit them.
Isaiah tells us how his beloved created a vineyard and then it was destroyed.
The Psalmist tells us of how the Lord’s vineyard has broken walls and wild boars have ravaged it. Then he pleads with God to restore the vineyard to preserve ‘what your right hand has planted.’ But there’s no response from God.
Then there is Jesus’ parable about the horrible things that happened in the Landowner’s vineyard.
No vineyards in my future, you can bet your life!
But, then again, none of the vineyards in the readings are really vineyards. In Isaiah and the Psalm they metaphors and Jesus’s parable is an allegory. When it comes to metaphors and allegories, you’ve come to the right place. I’m an aging English major—metaphors and allegories are in my blood.
To remind us all what an Allegory is, here is the Merriam/Webster definition: ‘the expression of truth or generalizations about human experience by use of symbolic fictional figures and their actions.”
A parable is already a kind of ‘allegory’. It comes from both Greek and Latin roots. “para-bolaine” means, literally, ‘to throw out together’. You throw out the story with one hand and a deeper meaning with the other. The story both hides and reveals the meaning behind it.
Mark has practically the same parable as Matthew’s in today’s gospel. Mark calls the main character “a man” which Matthew replaces with ‘a landowner’ to make it more clear that in the allegory the ‘landowner’ is more clearly ‘the Lord of the manor’—God.
The allegory is pretty basic: the Landowner is God, the vineyard is Israel, the tenants are those in Israel who want to replace God, the slaves he sends are the prophets of the Hebrew bible and the Son is Jesus.
Pretty obvious really. Then the punishment will be the judgement of God on those who have ignored the prophets, rejected the cornerstone and crucified Jesus.
And it’s also clear that the chief priests and Pharisees think Jesus is talking about them but are powerless to arrest him because the crowds think he is a prophet.
Pretty straight-forward for an allegory. And worth taking at face value as I laid it out.
But I have something to caution us all about.
In centuries following, the Christian church took teachings like this and fine-tuned them.
That ended up looking like this: they began to convince themselves that the ‘tenants’ were all of Israel, not just the bad seeds in an other-wise good apple. That sort of misreading led to centuries of Christians looking down on Jews and being anti-semitic.
It exists still today in some forms of Christianity and broadly in our culture. We need to point it out and expose it for what it is—a misreading of Jesus’ words.
Nothing short of shining the Light of Truth on anti-semitic thoughts is enough. To not do so makes us the cruel tenants.
It’s what we must do. Stand up against all hatred of those different from ourselves. To do less is to fall short of the love of God.