It’s not about me

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. A green cloth for the current church season, a cross and something symbolising power and status may be useful to help you reflect on today’s theme.

Opening Prayer

(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.36)
O planet-weaver, the skies declare your glory.
O star-spinner, the vault of heaven
proclaims your handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
night to night declares knowledge
yet there are no words, their voices cannot be heard.
But creation’s pure sound reverberates
throughout the cosmos for in the heavens
you have set a tent for the sun
and on earth a place for us all.
Yet we often forget that we are creations of your breath,
tenants of your vineyard.
We silence your voice.
We subjugate your land.
We mar your image within and around.
We reject the cornerstone and kill your son.
Yet you do not shy away.
You meet our hate with love,
our violence with steadfast loving kindness,
our forgetfulness with remembrance.
Remind us this day and this night that we can kill your love
but we cannot keep it dead and buried.
Redeem us each day and each night that we might live in tune
with the words of your son, with the reverberations of your cosmos
thus enabling the words of our mouths
and the meditation of all our hearts
to be acceptable to you,
O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
Amen.

Matthew 21:33-46 (NRSV)
33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

Reflecting on the Word

(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss. 36)

This week we find another parable based around a vineyard. A vineyard was often used as a metaphor to represent Israel, and this one is no different. It does, however, have a much more violent ending than those we have previously read.

The most obvious analogy here is the foreshadowing of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. The allegorical parable places the chief priests and Pharisees in the role of the tenants of God’s vineyard, the prophets are the slaves sent by the divine landowner, and Jesus is the son who is beaten and killed.

Understanding the context of Matthew’s gospel is vital here. His community was expelled from the synagogue, and there is therefore no love lost between the leaders of Matthew’s community and the leaders of the Jewish community. Matthew represents them as the tenants who failed to honour the authority of the landowner, God, and as those who stoned the prophets and killed the son. The Jewish leaders would probably respond to this by seeing Jesus’ claims as messiah as false, as he did not fit the description of the person they expected to be the messiah.

It is very easy to to disengage with this parable and perceive it is just about those ancient ‘hypocrites’. But is it? Maybe the real question to ask ourselves is what does this parable highlight about us today? Who are the recipients of Jesus’ biting words today?

If we are honest with ourselves, are we not more likely lumped in with the selfish tenants? Consider how the Western developed world has taken advantage of the resources of this planet, this global vineyard, for its own ends. We have created wealth often at the expense of poorer, less powerful nations and people. When we consider our own actions, how much of the time do we make decisions that we can, hand on heart, say are based more on God’s kingdom values than on selfish desires and wishes? And when we make the direct connection to the church today, the tenants of God’s vineyard, how do the actions of our churches, nationally or locally, reflect the values of the kingdom of God?

This parable is not one locked in time and in the particular issues of the chief priests and Pharisees and their dishonouring of God. It is one that reveals a constant threat to the values of God’s kingdom and the life and ministry of Jesus: the seizing of what is not yours for your own ends.

It is the history of colonialism, of empire, of Britain and America (and others), of slavery, of indentured servitude, of unfair trade, of multinational corporations which privatise their profits and socialise their losses. It is about the exp-loitation for profit of an asset that was never ours.

Reflective Prayer

It’s not about us. We repeat that to ourselves.
It’s not about us.
Cleverly distancing ourselves from all those unfortunate targets
of Jesus’ scathing condemnation.
It’s not about us.
We’re just over here quietly doing the best we can,
learning from the failings of others
while God chuckles and remarks: they’re at it again!
Distancing themselves from my teaching removing themselves from implication
if only they could see:
it’s SO about them.
As wilful now as any generation before,
as righteous and smug and ‘well-meaning’ and downright cruel,
it is SO about them
for their lack of compassion and their clinging tightly to all that they have,
for their taunting others with their wealth,
and consigning children to rubbish heaps…
It is SO about them.
If only they would wake up and hear my challenge
to effect change by letting go, by giving up control,
by working for justice, by having compassion, by following me,
the vulnerable God, into all the places where my children suffer,
and follow me out of their sanctuaries into the ghetto
where I am to be found, weeping too.

Reflecting on the passage

In many ways this story is about leadership. Think of some names of leaders of politics and industry and global movements.
• What kind of behaviour would you expect from a leader: good behaviour, ethical, behaviour that challenges us, breaks the rules?
• What characteristics did Jesus have that made him leadership material The abuse of the privilege of power is a blight on our world.
• Can you think about people and places today – near and far where you recognise this is the case? Why is it that people find it hard to let go of power?

Prayer for ourselves and others

(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.36)
If all our accomplishments,
all our acumen, all our wisdom,
our work, our will were to be stripped away
we would still belong to you, O God.
Therefore, we press onwards towards the goal of your kingdom.
Not to earn your grace but to share your love.
So we pray for when we twist our priorities,
in the confusion of what is wrong and right,
and for when we disrespect your image.
We are your children, we are your tenants,
we are made in your image.
May we live up to that reality, in our actions and thoughts.
We pray that those in power might seek service over celebrity
and work to uplift the poor rather than their popularity.
We pray that those without power might find strength in you
and partners in us even when we feel powerless.
We pray for the courage and strength to press onward.
We pray for humility and compassion to transcend the past
and press forward to what lies ahead.
For you are our beginning, you are our present,
you are our destination.
Amen.

Blessing

(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.36)
As one of God’s children you are not cast aside.
God loves you and cherishes you.
You belong and are treasured.
Take this affirmation and live into it this week.
May you be blessed by God’s love,
Christ’s inclusion,
and the Spirit’s presence
as you go, this day, this week,
and evermore.

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth was minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, between 2018 and 2023. Elizabeth retired in December 2023 and has moved to Dungog in the Hunter valley, with her husband Rev Dr John Squires.

Over the years, Elizabeth has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

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