16th Sunday after Pentecost (October 2, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ps. 80:7-15; Is. 5:1-7; Phil. 3:4b-14; Matt. 21:33-46
This week we enjoyed debriefing with three short-term volunteers who taught an Intensive English class at St. Peter’s Seminary in northern Iraq, Aug. 20-Sept.24. Lois Bukar, Greg Rabus and Deborah Schaffer spent long days teaching young priests and other Iraqi students. They also had opportunities to visit a number of communities in northern Iraq and learned a lot about local culture and customs.
MCC has placed an English teacher at St. Peter’s for the past four years. This is the second time that MCC provided teachers for an Intensive English class that is held before the regular academic year begins.
In the region this week:
–Israel announced plans for 1,100 new settlement units in East Jerusalem. The U.S. and European Union condemned the announcement. But U.S. officials threatened no consequences as they did last week when the Palestinian Liberation Organization submitted a bid at the U.N. to be recognized as a full member state.
-Iraq made its first payment on a $3.0 billion order for 18 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets. The U.S. also will provide training for the Iraqi pilots who will fly the jets.
-On Friday, thousands of Jordanians demonstrated in Amman, calling for Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit’s government to step down.
The Common Lectionary readings are about vineyards.
In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah uses the metaphor of a vineyard to describe God’s care for God’s people. God plants a vineyard with “choice vines” on a “very fertile hill.” (Is. 5:1-2) But instead of yielding good grapes, it yielded wild grapes (vv. 2, 4). God expected justice but, instead, God’s people acted violently (v.7). Therefore, God promises to remove the hedge of protection around the vineyard and allow it to be trampled down and laid to waste (vv. 5-6).
The psalmist also describes a vineyard, but from the viewpoint of God’s people. “You brought a vine out of Egypt,” they acknowledge, “you drove out the nations and planted it.” (Ps. 80:8). For a time, the vine flourished, they remember. “Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?” they lament (v.12). “Restore us . . . let your face shine, that we may be saved,” they plead (v.7).
In the Gospel reading Jesus tells the chief priests and Pharisees a story about a landowner who plants a vineyard and builds a fence around it (Matt. 21:33-46). The landowner then leases the vineyard to tenants and goes to another country. Later he sends servants (followed by his son) to receive his portion of the produce. But the tenants kill the servants and even the landowner’s son. Jesus’ listeners conclude that the landowner will get rid of the tenants and turn the vineyard over to other tenants who “will give him the produce at the harvest time.” (v.41) Jesus responds, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” (v. 43)
The image of vineyards and grapevines is common in the Middle East. Many families plant grapevines to provide fruit but also to shade outdoor patios that provide pleasant gathering spaces on hot summer days. The grape harvest is just ending here. We’ve enjoyed delicious white and red grapes, which have been especially sweet this year.
The Lectionary readings use powerful images of vineyards to remind us of God’s care for the human community, but also of the expectation that we bear fruit and act justly in the world. Are we producing the fruits of God’s kingdom?