Blessed to Bee Guests

When the religious leaders heard Jesus teaching and speaking to the people ‘as one with authority’…they couldn’t believe their ears.   Who was he to be instructing anyone about matters pertaining to the kingdom of God?     And so they asked him point blank:  “By what authority do you do these things?  And who gave you this authority?”

Three times he tried to answer their question.   And three times he began by telling them another parable.    According to Matthew, this parable went something like this.

The tenants were dead wrong and they knew it.   It was not their vineyard.   They had made a deal.  The owner of the vineyard deserved his share of the produce, but there is something about this story that just does not sit right.    Maybe it is the all too casual mention of ‘slavery’ that seems to be taken for granted, or maybe it is because no one likes an absentee landlord.   Or maybe it’s because some of us have parents or grandparents who were sharecroppers and we know how hard that life can be:  tending someone else’s land, bringing in someone else’s harvest, making someone else’s profit.   

It simply is not the American way.  From the very beginning, our country has fueled the dreams of people from all over the world who have come here looking for their own small piece of paradise.     After all, isn’t that the American way?  To own your own home on your own land and preferably to grow your own vegetables for your own supper table.      Most of us in this country have no doubt been brought up to believe in ownership, autonomy, and self-reliance.     And whether or not we actually pull these off, those are the values we have all been taught and strive to live by.      

Back to the parable, somewhere along the way someone misplaced the tenant’s agreement and decided to write a deed instead.       After all, the landowner spent most of his time in a country far away causing most folks to believe he was never coming back.   

But when the messengers arrived one day by surprise, saying that they had been sent to remind the tenants of their agreement with the landowner…it didn’t take much to scare them away.     A quick show of who’s in charge around here left one poor fellow dead, another badly beaten, and a third nearly stoned to death.

The owner could have sent the police…or at the very least returned violence for violence.   But…he did not.   Instead, to everyone’s surprise, he just kept sending more messengers who pleaded with the tenants to come to their senses and honor the agreement with the owner of the land.  

Finally, when none of the messengers had been taken seriously…the owner sent his only son to teach the tenants some things they had clearly forgotten.     He reminded them that they were not the owners of the vineyard.   It is not for sale and never will be.   

The owner, he reminded them, was not looking for buyers;  he is looking for tenants who will give him his share of the produce at harvest time.   Which means that the real issue here is one of stewardship.    Giving back to God what rightfully belonged to God in the first place.      He reminded them that ownership was simply a game that they were playing and that he had it on good authority that despite what they had come to believe, they were in fact guests of the owner.

And that being guests now placed them into a relationship with a host who placed them into a relationship with one other.     He reminded them that as guests, they had free access to far more than could ever be earned for themselves.    As far as the eye could see was theirs not to own…but to use and enjoy…through the generosity of the owner. 

All he asked was that they take care of it (that’s what being a good steward means) and that they give to him a portion of what they raised.   Not because he needed it…but because they needed it.      They needed to give in order to remember who they were:  grateful guests who took their lives into their hands like unopened gifts and returned the favor by giving themselves away to others.   

In the end, the tenants killed the son as well…but he would not stay dead and to this day he is still haunting the vineyard.     He comes to remind us once again, that we are God’s guests…welcome on this earth and welcome to it as long as we remember whose it is and how it is to be used.     We can love it as our own.   We can even water it by hand and take deep pleasure at the harvest.  We can even will pieces of it to our children, naming them our successors in this stewardship of the vineyard.  

All we may not do…is turn our backs against the owner…and turn a deaf ear to his Word.   Because to do that, according to Jesus, is to court our own disaster.   We must use the knowledge of who we are and where we came from.   We are God’s sharecroppers.   We take care of the earth and whatever harvest we are blessed to receive…and we do so on someone else’s behalf.   

We are expected to represent God’s interests, being as generous with each other as God is with us.   We are not owners.   We were never meant to be.     Thanks be to God…we are guests.    And by His authority…heirs of the kingdom of God.