When I got up this morning, I planned to check this reflection for typos and then to schedule it for next Sunday (today, to you, Dear Reader). This was before I heard the news regarding that horrific shooting in Las Vegas. Suddenly, the sadness within me and around me took a back seat to the events unfolding fifteen hundred miles away. I had written about that overwhelmingly painful place we visit when our heartache gets the best of us. I’ve been there. I know some of you have been there as well because you’ve shared your stories with me. “There” is that place far beyond disappointment and well past anger. “There” is that place where our misery gives way to tears as we wonder what to do next. I’m writing of those times when you or I or a loved one has done everything right only to discover that, in spite of our best effort, the result is completely wrong. After watching subsequent news reports, I’m certain that those hurt and their loved ones question this wrong turn in their reality. In today’s gospel (Matthew 21:33-43), Jesus offers the parable of a landowner who has been to this place as well…
The landowner in Jesus’ story is a savvy businessperson who’s done everything necessary to net a healthy crop of grapes from his property. Jesus told his audience that the man “…planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine-press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” It seems that this landowner was a person of means accustomed to engaging in such transactions. He employed tenants to whom he’d given housing and a living wage to tend his vineyard. As a result, these tenants enjoyed the opportunity to live respectably and the landowner increased his holdings. This arrangement should have been a sweet deal for all concerned. Unfortunately, the tenants didn’t live up to their responsibilities in all of this. They wanted much more than their fair share. At harvest time, when the landowner sent his servants to retrieve his share of the grapes, two were beaten and one was killed. What should have been a simple settling of accounts developed into an ugly scenario. When the landowner sent a second cohort to gather what was his, they were met with violence as well. Completely shocked by this outrage, the landowner sent his son to settle the matter. He was convinced that the tenants would respect his son and hand over what was due. Unfortunately for the landowner and his son, the tenants viewed the young man as an obstacle. Those tenants killed the man’s son to secure his inheritance for themselves.
I would never have predicted this end to Jesus’ parable. The landowner had behaved appropriately in everything. He was a good businessperson who paid his employees well. When things went completely wrong and he lost his own son, what more was there to do? Jesus posed this very question to his followers who responded, “…He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Though I see what those present were getting at, I can’t let go of the reality that nothing will bring back the landowner’s son. If I’d been in the landowner’s shoes, I would have been able to do nothing more than to weep over the senseless loss of my child until my tears ran out. Neither future tenants nor bountiful harvests nor successful business deals of any sort would fill the emptiness within me. The families of those lost in that Las Vegas shooting likely share these sentiments.
I’ve puzzled over this parable. In the process, I’ve discovered that I don’t like being immersed into a scenario which so accurately echoes the events which cause us heartache today. I’m reluctant to analyze Jesus’ words. Still, the pain of the moment compels me to do just that. Deep within, I realize that God will eventually make sense of everything. Deep within, I realize that God shares that “sense” with us if we take the time to attend to it. It is God’s “sense” of things which makes it impossible for me to leave that landowner in his misery. It is God’s sense which insists that this isn’t the end for those hurt and lost in Las Vegas. Though Jesus never offered an outcome to his parable, I will. I say the landowner left those tenants to the authorities and then moved on. How could he find solace in further bloodshed when his son’s death had robbed him of so much? I say that the landowner found a way to get past his trauma. I say that God entered into the landowner’s story to assure him that he wasn’t alone. I say God helped him to embrace this life once again. I say God will do the same for our Las Vegas friends and for us.
God entered into your story and mine long ago. I think it began the day God first breathed life into us. This is the reason that, as sorrowful and hurtful as life can be, we somehow pull ourselves up to begin again Actually, it is God who offers the hand on which we balance ourselves and finally make it back to our feet.
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