Parable of the Landowner

Yesterday was the fourth session of the Creed series at St. John’s Episcopal and so I attended Mass there prior to my program.  This was the third time I’ve been treated to a sermon by the Rev. Michele Morgan, who is currently serving as a transitional priest at St. John’s while they search for a new rector.

Yesterday’s Gospel was the parable of the landowner who leased his land to tenants. When harvest time came he sent his servants to collect his produce, but the tenants beat or killed them.  He sent more servants who were treated the same way.  Then he sent his son, who the tenants also killed.  Jesus asks his audience what they think will happen when the landowner comes, and the chief priests and Pharisees predictably respond that he will have them killed.

We listen to that story and we quickly identify the players: the landowner is God; the servants sent by the landowner, the prophets; the son, Jesus.  And those who kill, Rev. Michele observed, we quickly label as someone else, not us.

After that, we are likely to get the message wrong.  It is easy to think that the moral is that the bad tenants get their just deserts.

But Rev. Michele pointed out something that I had not focused on when listening to that parable, something that turns the Pharisees’ expectation on its head.  Look at the behavior of the landowner.  He sends a second set of servants after the first are killed.  Then – after the second set of servants, he sends his son, the heir.  What father in his right mind, she asked, would have sent his son in those circumstances?  He had to know the danger he was placing him into.

The answer is God.  She reminded us that God keeps reaching out to us over and over again, no matter what.  Even when we spurn, even when we reject, God keeps coming.

It’s pretty humbling when you think about it.