Jesus’ Unfinished Parable
I’ll say this every time, because I think it is so important… parables are stories told about one thing to make a point about another,
they should never be easily digestible, but instead sit with you for a while, your subconscious working on it, working it into your life
… they are to be chewed on until they chew on you.
Parables often seem simple, but grow and their meaning expands.
Parables, especially the ones Jesus tells, often end with a zinger—a sharp barb to blow away the listeners…
But today, I would suggest that Jesus never gets to the zinger—the flow of the story is interrupted by the force of the Pharisee’s concerns… I would suggest, today’s parable is unfinished… Jesus’ unfinished parable.
Further, I would suggest Jesus’ unfinished parable
1. parallels Isaiah’s vineyard-song,
2. is stopped short by the self-condemnation of the religious leaders,
3. and is ultimately finished in Jesus’ own body.
Jesus’ unfinished parable parallels Isaiah’s vineyard-song.
“Have you heard the one about the landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press, built up a watch-tower…”
In my holy Imagination—I figure Peter probably stopped him short, saying, “Oh yes, Jesus, I have heard that one… it’s Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard that produced rotten grapes (or as the NRSV accurately but unhelpfully translates “wild grapes”)…
Then Peter would go on and remind the crowd about that story—how God so lovingly cultivated a relationship with His people--gave the Laws of Moses, acquiesced to anointing David and his line King, went along with his people through thick and thin, provided the prophets as things got worse
… and yet, somehow, for all the pleasant planting…
… and yet, somehow, for all the pleasant planting…
justice was jilted and produced bloodshed,
the seeds of righteousness yielded cries of horror.
This is about our nation’s relationship with God! Peter would add.
I’d imagine most nations could fit their own decline into a similar model—here in the US our laws and Bill of Rights were planted in order to bring forth the fruits of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
—yet the first amendment has produced unexpected produce
Twitter wars and ugly ugly comments sections
—the second amendment has produced rotten fruit
58 dead and 489 wounded in about 10 minutes.
Indeed, Isaiah speaks of good seed gone rotten.
Jesus’ unfinished parable is stopped short by the self-condemnation of the religious leaders
After Peter’s aside, Jesus continues,
“the land was leased and the landlord left, sent a servant to collect what was owed him… this servants were beat, and a second killed, and a third stoned—more and more servants arrived, and more and more often they were treated so badly—their bodied became compost and fertilizer for the tenants’ gardens…
So then, the Landowner sent his son, who the tenants plotted against, and seized, and took from the vineyard, and killed!
“What,” Jesus asked, “will the landowner do to these tenants?”
And here’s where things get funny—I’d imagine when I read this today, you all heard the response as coming from Jesus—but in point of fact, the next words are those of the religious leaders, the Pharisees and temple officials, and such…
Their response is: “kill ‘em and take their stuff!”
“Respond to hate with hate!”
My dear siblings in Christ—this is not the Kingdom of God that Jesus is preaching…
an eye for an eye—not Jesus!
not turning the other cheek… not Jesus!
In fact, it isn’t even the kind of thing a Pharisee should get behind….
After all, there is the story of the foreigner who came to the Rabbis Shammai and Hillel and ask them to give a gloss of the law—asked for a summary of the Jewish faith during Jesus’ time—while hopping on one foot—so it had to be quick about it.
(To get you a sense on these two religious leader’s perspectives—when asked about telling little white lies, Hillel said “a bride is always the prettiest woman in the world on her wedding day” Shammai responded, “you can’t lie even then, if she’s a pig she’s a pig, and you tell her that to her face.”)
Shammai, true to form, told the foreigner to get out.
Hillel, however hopped there on one leg and said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, the rest is commentary.”
Yes, that golden rule that reigns across cultures and religions, is ignored by these religious leaders who respond to Jesus.
And by their words, they condemn themselves…. Its like when the prophet Nathen tells King David a story about a vile sheep stealer, King David goes berserk and then is told, “you are that man.”
As these religious leaders have sewn, so now they shall reap.
That which they wished upon others, their words of judgment, are now the length by which they are measured.
They lose their authority in that moment, and, at least in Matthew’s eyes, it is picked up by Jesus’ fishermen disciples.
It’s like that dog carrying a bone, who walks to a pond, sees his reflection and thinks it another dog with a bone, is angry at it, and barks, dropping the bone into the water, from which it may not be retrieved.
And Jesus all but drops the rest of his story—leaving the religious leaders with enough rope to hand themselves… the parable is left unfinished.
The parable is left unfinished…
But Jesus’ unfinished parable is ultimately finished in Jesus’ own body.
Unfinished, at least, in so far as it is a spoken thing, a story pointing to a reality…
but this story Jesus tells is another way
—he embodies it, lives the story in reality, that the story might be told to the whole world.
Have you heard the one about the landowner, who deeply loved his vineyard, poured himself into it, leased it to tenants, sent servants to collect the fruits of his labor… Jeremiah was thrown down a well, Isaiah ridiculed, John beheaded—then God sent his son, Jesus.
The Son was seized, taken outside the walls of Jerusalem—that vineyard, and killed.
But he did not stay dead.
He came and said
“Be Not Afraid.”
He intercedes with the Landowner.
Takes on that miserable death, recommended by the religious leaders, and takes it out of play.
Pays off the lease of that vineyard, with his precious blood.
Bears our pain and our grief.
The son, rejected, bears upon his back a new world.
The son, renews every garden and every vineyard.
The son, works tirelessly to collect sorrow and produces from it all good fruit.