One of the joys of lockdown was the return of birds to our garden. We became more aware of birdsong and the calming effect of the natural world to our well being. I enjoyed seeing a goldfinch for the first time as it drank from the bowl outside my window. I had never realised how stunningly beautiful these colourful birds are.
We were created to live in a garden. The Bible begins with the garden of Eden and ends with a new heaven and earth where humans are surrounded by trees and the river of the water of life
We were created to live in harmony with and care for all creation, not to exploit it for our own ends.
We become healthier in body, mind and spirit when we care for a garden or allotment or walk in the country. We are calmed when we stroke our pets and become close to animals.
Our gospel today is the middle parable in which Jesus asks us his listeners to look at the Kingdom of Heaven as a vineyard, a place which if tended and nurtured brings forth much fruit.
Last week’s parable was about workers hired to tend the grapes. Although they were all treated well by the generous landowner, they were hired workers. They enjoyed the profits, but the vineyard didn’t belong to their family.
In this week’s parable, a father sends his sons into the vineyard to share in the family business.
The first refuses to go and later changes his mind, whilst the second agrees to go and then doesn’t bother.
It is so frustrating when someone agrees to do something and never gets around to it, whether it is at work, in the home or at church.
If vines are not pruned and the grapes are not collected, a vineyard will fall into ruin. A garden doesn’t look beautiful without help
Who are we in this parable, the one who appears agreeable but is lazy and doesn’t bother or the one who appears to be rude and obstinate but eventually gets the job done?
As children of the vineyard owner the sons are immensely privileged. They will enjoy the benefits and produce. One day they will inherit the land. It is in their interests therefore to look after their father’s property.
Jesus told this parable in the temple to the chief priests and elders who were questioning his authority because Jesus had challenged theirs. He had just ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowds proclaimed that he was the coming Messiah. Furthermore he had overturned the tables in the temple of the money changers who were selling animals for sacrifice at extortionate prices.
The chief priests and elders were exploiting those less powerful than themselves for profit. When Jesus sees people exploited he is angry.
We know Jesus acted under the authority of his heavenly Father, he is Israel’s Messiah and he was right to challenge exploitation in his Father’s house of prayer. Do we challenge exploitation when we see it?
Jesus knew that if he answered the question about his authority, he would immediately be condemned so he responded with a question about John the Baptist. Did John’s baptism come from heaven or from humans?
The chief priests knew that whatever they answered would condemn them. If they answered that his baptism came from heaven, they were guilty for not getting their lives right with God and acting on John’s teaching.
If they said John’s baptism was of human invention they risked the wrath of the crowd who had repented of their sins, returned money to those they had extorted it from and who were behaving more fairly.
The image of the vineyard in scripture represented Judah who God had planted and expected to bring forth fruit.
As leaders of the Jewish people, the chief priests should have been looking after the people in God’s vineyard, not exploiting them for their own purposes.
As those well versed in scripture, they had said yes to God but had not done what they had been called to do. They needed to repent.
The tax collectors and prostitutes however, were like the son who had been disobedient, yet repented. They had listened to John the Baptist when he told them not to extort or use violence to gain more money than was their due and be generous if they had more than they needed.
They had repented and therefore would enter the kingdom heaven before the unrepentant chief priests and elders.
God has created a beautiful world of great variety and abundance. He wants us to enjoy it, not exploit it; to look and listen with wonder, to touch, taste and know the goodness of God.
We are labourers in God’s vineyard. We are not slaves but his children who should long to share in the task of sowing and reaping fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Sir David Attenborough has reminded us in his television programme “Extinction,” that the human race faces a tough choice
If we continue to exploit the earth for economic purposes and compete on a global scale, we face destruction.
The earth is warming up quicker than we expected. Millions of species, particularly insects are being lost. The effects of flooding, fires and less land and natural habitats mean animals and humans live more closely together. The consequences are that pandemics like COVID 19 are likely to be more frequent as diseases jump from one species to another.
There is likely to be a lack of food and the poor suffer first.
Our Philippians passage reminds us that Jesus came to show us a different way. We are not to do anything from selfish ambitious or conceit. Instead we are to have the same mind as Christ Jesus who did not regard equality to God as something to be exploited.
Instead he took the form of a slave and suffered and died for us.
Like Jesus we are called to serve, to look after each other’s interests before our own; to tend and nurture the natural world and care for all who should be sharing in the fruit of God’s vineyard.
We are to be, loving, compassionate and humble like Christ.
I am thankful for all those who continue to serve in our part of God’s vineyard here at St Leonard’s, in the churchyard, during our services, in your giving of gifts and money and in the phone calls you make showing your love for each other. Because you are children of God and family, you do it without reward or monetary gain.
In the face of natural disasters and the pandemic we are humbled.
How could humans think God would allow exploitation of his beautiful world to go unchallenged? Post pandemic, is it really viable to carry on exploiting God’s world?
In serving and dying for us Jesus became God’s rescue plan both for us and for creation. Let’s be like the tax collectors and prostitutes, repent of our sins and accept Christ’s love in our lives. Until that day when every knee will bow to him, may we be like Jesus serving in God’s vineyard.