Proper 22B: When The Journey Gets a Little Unfamiliar

Unfamiliar JourneyOLD TESTAMENT: Job 1: 1, 2: 1-10

Read from the Book of Job

The Book of Job is anonymous and it’s not really known when it was written, although historical Biblical scholars place it between the seventh and fourth centuries bce. Its purpose is not really known either, although it has a great deal to do with the way we see life and how our faith speaks through our lives. Contrary to what we may desire, Job offers no answers to the life’s suffering or life’s heartaches except faith. It takes all of those contrived images of God and shakes them at their core leaving nothing for us but a relationship with God instead. God is not here to “fix things” or to reward us or to punish us. God is here to welcome and love us.

In the beginning of our passage, Job is characterized as righteous and good, a man who sought God and turned away from those things that separated him from God. The passages following this depict his family as the same—righteous, blessed, and wealthy. Everything is perfect.

In the next part of our reading, the Lord and Satan have what is actually the second discussion before the heavenly court. Note that “satan” is actually the literal translation of the Hebrew hassatan and is not Satan, the devil of later times, but a member of the heavenly assembly. His task evidently is to inquire into the behavior of the human race and to bring back word to God. Ha-satan is considered more of an office or a function. Think of him as the accuser, the adversary; more of a prosecuting attorney but one who is operating on God’s behalf.

The satan has tested Job and Job has passed the test. It has been proven that Job’s integrity was not because of his prosperity and blessing; Job’s integrity is intact. Essentially, God can now say, “I told you so!”. But the satan claims that Job would give all of this for his life. He proposes a “skin for skin” challenge—what would Job do if YHWH attacks Job’s very life? (From Jewish midrash) In the bargain with Satan God outwitted that trickster with the command that Job’s life must be spared whatever else happened. This put a terrible pressure on the Adversary, since the command was like saying, “You may break the wine bottle, but you must not let the wine spill.” (Williams, 76)

So the satan afflicts Job with the disease of the sixth plague of Egypt (Exodus 9:9-11), foul boils that cloak his entire body. Keep in mind that this was more than just uncomfortable. Those with repulsive skin diseases were separated from the community and often found themselves living among the garbage. Job’s famous ash heap may be the ancient equivalent of a modern landfill, with its ripe smells and continuous burning. Into the scene, steps Job’s wife, urging him to let go of his integrity, already, and curse God. But Job remains steadfast.

The idea that God blesses the faithful, rewarding the righteous with what they deserve, and that the opposite, trials and tribulation, are signs of being out of sync with God—apparently the prosperity gospel is nothing new under the sun—is rejected outright by Job. It is rejected in the portrayal of the struggles of a genuinely “blameless and upright” man, and in Job’s response—both to his wife and to his situation.  Job comes to us as a warning against believing in a God who rewards piety and virtue with prosperity and success.  Job is us and with his story is a reminder that God never promised us ease and plenty but rather Presence and Grace and a Love more incredible than we can ever fathom—now, tomorrow, and every tomorrow thereafter.  Isn’t that better than worrying about whether or not we’ll be rewarded or punished in the future?

Back in the early 5th century, St. Augustine distinguished two kinds of love, in Latin, uti and frui. Uti love is love of use. I love money — not because I particularly enjoy looking at it or feeling it. I love money because I can use it to get something else I want. Uti. Now, frui love is different. I love — I’m not sure that’s a strong enough word — I love chocolate, not because of what I use it for, which really isn’t all that good. I get fatter, cholesterol count goes up. But it doesn’t matter. I just love chocolate. I’ll do anything to get it. Frui.

Augustine said we have this bad habit of loving God with uti love. We love God because we hope to get God to help us get whatever it is we want (blessing, prosperity, even eternal life). Lord, I’m after the good life, a better job, this or that success: so, bless me! But God prefers not to be used. God wants us to love God with frui love. We just love God, not because of what we get out of it, but just because God is God, and we would do anything for God. As the Westminster Confession put it, the chief end of humanity is to love God and enjoy [God] forever. (From “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People”, by Rev. Dr. James C. Howell, available at, accessed 22 September, 2009.)

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does this say to you about God?
  3. What does this say to you about righteousness or faith?
  4. How does this speak to our own world?
  5. If we can no longer ask the question, “what has God done for me?”, what question should we then ask?
  6. What does that mean to you to love God just for loving God?


NEW TESTAMENT: Hebrews 1: 1-4, 2: 5-12

Read the Scripture from Hebrews

Even though it’s called an epistle, Hebrews is not really written in the form of a letter but is rather a sort of address to which notes have been attached. We really have no idea who the writer was or in what setting he or she actually delivered the sermon. It is evident, though, that the future mattered and the author depicts God’s speaking through first the prophets in the past and now the Son (or Jesus Christ) in the present. Both of these points toward the future of what is to come.

The message of Christ is not so much in what Jesus said but in what he did and who he was. This is why the author goes right into the idea of Christ’s self-offering and his ascent to sit at God’s right hand. The idea of forgiveness of sins and the ongoing support that Christ offers is of paramount importance. The author is asserting that, despite the older claim that Jesus was a Messiah-King, Christ is instead above all imaginable powers. The ancients believed that angels were the invisible powers, usually good, but not always, who hovered above the world and had the power to determine destiny. You can see evidence of wisdom thought here in the depiction of Christ as the one more powerful than all other powers, the one through whom all power exists.

The second section asserts that not only is Christ above all other powers, but that he got there by traveling the same road on which we journey. Christ was human and, yet, was enthroned above the angels. Christ was the one who was just like us and experienced the same kind of vulnerability, temptation, and suffering and yet was placed “above the angels”, above all powers that be.

This is a message from a pastor urging his or her congregation to stay true to Christ. It affirms that wherever we may find ourselves, God speaks to us “at many times and in various ways”. (Perhaps it followed our reading from Job as their first reading that day!) Ultimately, though, God most fully reveals who God is and what God is feeling,, thinking, and doing in Jesus Christ: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of [God’s] being.” To demonstrate the deepest heart of God, Jesus shared humanity’s flesh and blood, was made like us in every respect, suffered like we do, prayed with “loud cries and tears,” died a violent death, “tasted death for everyone,” and in some mysterious way by his death “destroyed death itself.

In an interview with Anne Lamott, who is no stranger to pain, Linda Buturian asked her what she most wanted to convey to her son Sam about God. “I want to convey that we get to be human,” Lamott answered. “We get to make awful mistakes and fall short of who we hope we’re going to turn out to be. That we don’t have to be what anybody else tries to get us to be, so they could feel better about who they were. We get to screw up right and left. We get to keep finding our way back home to goodness and kindness and compassion. . . I want him to know that no matter what happens, he’s never going to have to walk alone. . . That’s what I’m trying to convey to Sam.” (From Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-One Writers Speak about Their Writing and Their Faith, Jennifer L. Holberg, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 2006), quoted in “We Get to Be Human”, by Dan Clendenin, October 2, 2006, available at, accessed 23 September, 2009.)

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does it mean for you that Christ is above all powers?
  3. What does it mean for you that Christ was human?
  4. What does it mean for you that we get to “be human”?
  5. What stands in the way of our being “human”?

GOSPEL: Mark 10: 2-16

Read the Gospel passage

To be honest, the first readers of this version of the Gospel probably found Jesus’ statements about divorce and remarriage as challenging and counter-cultural as we do.  Divorce in the first century was a generally accepted part of life, both among Jews and perhaps more so within wider Greco-Roman culture. Some writers and public leaders spoke against divorce as bad for society, but for the most part people debated only details of its legal basis. Among Jewish legal experts, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was a key text, one that assumes divorce will occur and prescribes procedures for carrying it out.  So the Pharisees who ask Jesus about divorce do so “to test” him. As for the Pharisees’ intentions, they might hope their question will expose Jesus as dangerous to families and their society.

Jesus, however, turns the conversation with the Pharisees away from the legal foundation for divorce to God’s design for marriage. That is, he dismisses the law as a concession to human weakness and offers a different perspective rooted in creation. His brief argument describes marriage as a strong and unifying bond between two people. It is because he sees marriage in such a way that he speaks against divorce as he does.

In essence, Jesus DOES disapprove of divorce, not because it is against religious rules, but because it is destructive, because it affects relationships and peoples’ lives.  Keep in mind that the in the ancient world, marriage was primarily a means of ensuring economic stability and social privilege.  A woman’s sexuality was the property of first her father and then her husband.  (Hence, the old language in the marriage ceremony about “giving away” the bride, which has since been removed from our Book of Worship.) Divorce could happen just because a man finds something objectionable about his wife, leaving her penniless, destitute, and shunned from society with no recourse.  Jesus seems to be speaking specifically against the custom of a man leaving his partner for another woman.  Jesus’ point is that divorce, even if allowed by Mosaic law, was not created to justify adultery or to satisfy one’s desires or ambitions.  Jesus is giving women a greater equality in the marital relationship.

There are obviously cultural differences for us today, to be sure.  Marriage is less about economics and more about people seeking mutual fulfillment.  Jesus describes marriage as something that transcends contracts, as something rooted in identity. Perhaps that is the message that we should take—not that divorce is wrong, necessarily, but that any relationship should be rooted in identity and treated with the seriousness that entails.  I don’t think the concern here is right or wrong but rather to heighten our awareness of our connectedness.  Relationships and commitment and love are not and should not be conditional.  They are part of who we are.  And when a relationship ends, there is an offering of healing and return to wholeness in a new and recreated way.

As for the last part, remember that children were treated like women.  They were not protected, they were not honored, and no one was concerned with them at all.  But while the disciples were listening to Jesus haggling with the Pharisees over the “legalities” of marriage, these bothersome children were shooed away.  But not only did Jesus welcome the children, he said that we should be like them, we should be curious enough to explore and vulnerable enough to depend on someone else.  We should be open to imagining what we do not know and trusting enough to rest ourselves in God.  After all, isn’t that what matters?  Jesus was both welcoming the unwelcomed and reminding us to open our lives to God.

Perhaps this whole sort of discombobulated passage that we read today is more about not following the rules and following Christ.  Jesus didn’t care about rules; he cared about showing us the way to God. He cared about showing how to relate to each other, how to relate to God, and even how to relate to ourselves.  We were never promised that it would be easy or that things would always come out alright.  We were just promised that we would be loved and welcomed and always have somewhere to go.  We were promised something new—we just have to open ourselves enough to imagine it.

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What, then, does this say about relationships? About wholeness?
  3. What does this say about the “rules” that we create?
  4. What does it mean to become like a child for you?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair. (G.K. Chesterton)

Where the heart does not reside whole, there is only duty, not fidelity. (Joan Chittister)

My ego is like a fortress. I have built its walls stone by stone. To hold out the invasion of the love of God. But I have stayed here long enough. There is light over the barriers. O my God…I let go of the past, I withdraw my grasping hand from the future, And in the great silence of the moment, I alertly rest my soul. (Howard Thurman)





This Sunday is World Communion Sunday.  It is the day that the whole world remembers, renews, and is recreated and refashioned into something new.  As the time zones click through the orbit of the earth, there is table seating after table seating after table seating until all of us are seated together.  THIS, my friends, is the Kingdom of God.  It is something that we must imagine.  The Eucharist gives us that glimpse if only we will allow ourselves to imagine it and see it. (Invite persons to go around the room saying what they envision, what it is that they glimpse, that is God’s Kingdom. Close with “THIS, my friends, is the Kingdom of God.”  And all the people said…Amen.)


Proper 22A: Harvest Season

WorldCommunionSunday-46619_232x117OLD TESTAMENT: Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage, click here

Israel’s destiny is rooted in the self-disclosure of God. These commandments should be taken not as a series of rules, but as a proclamation of who God is and how God shall be “practiced” by this community of now-liberated slaves. For the Israelites, God and the Way of God is known as Torah; God’s nearness is expressed as righteousness. This version of the Ten Commandments in Exodus was probably written and edited in light of the exile in Babylon. The specific laws would have been selected from among the many social and moral laws over many generations. It is probable that they did not magically drop out of the sky but rather grew out of a people’s understanding of who God was.

The people are first reminded that God has already saved them before, bringing them out of slavery, bringing them into relationship with God. But you can’t help noticing that these commandments are formative of who one is before God and how one lives in response to God.

You will notice that the “commandments”, as we know them come in distinct groupings. The first three commandments are preoccupied with the awesome claims of God’s person—who God is, who God is for us, how we revere and respect God. The fourth commandment honors the majesty of God, but also prepares us for relationship with God and relationship with others. The other six commandments have to do with relationships with others—how we act in the world toward others. It is really very simple: You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (with all that you are, with every essence of your being) And…you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (But it’s interesting to note that there is some conflict in the way the commandments should be numbered. There are several different ways of presenting them between the Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Reformed Protestant traditions. So if that’s confusing, maybe you can just think of them as a call to loving God with all you are, with moving toward being wholly and completely the child of God that you were created to be.)

But God’s grace, as we are reminded, happened before any of these laws were laid down. It is expected, then, that in response to the salvific nature of God, the people will want to respond and stay in relationship with God. In Hebrew, these laws are known as the “ten words”, and for the most part are expressed in brief sentences. Tradition says that God gave these words directly to the people and then later Moses is summoned to receive the tablets on which they are written for posterity. (Exodus 24: 12-18)

Torah, or “law”, is really more about teaching and positive instruction rather than a list of rules, the way we would normally interpret “laws”. Think of it more like the law that we talk about when we say “natural laws” or “the laws of nature”. It is the way things are; it is the way order, rather than chaos and relationship, rather than separation ensues. It is the way that God draws us into God. The purpose of the “law”, then, is to choose life. From that standpoint, it’s probably not always helpful to go through the commandments one rule at a time as if they were a check list. We need to be clear that together they voice the larger and demanding vision of God that defines Biblical faith. (Notice that the second commandment brings into this vision all of Creation. Nothing in Creation is beyond God’s sovereign mystery.

In our modern-day society, there are those who have tried to make these words “law” in the judicial sense, simply by displaying them in courthouses or public buildings. But they are missing the fact that these are not laws to obey but the natural way that we are called to respond to the freedom of God. Rather than dictating what we should do, they depict who we are as a people of God.


It is a monstrous distortion of who and what [God] is to think that the self-revelation which took place on Sinai was nothing more than the proclamation of a legalistic code…

We Christians would do well to remember that the most joyous celebration in Judaism is the yearly feast of Simchat Torah, “the joy of Torah.” On this wild festival day, the Torah scroll is removed from the synagogue and in a long and exuberant parade through he streets of the city, is passed from hand to hand through the crowd. All the while, there is much singing and drinking and dancing. I was privileged some years ago to be in Tiberius, Israel on Simchat Torah. I will never forget the wild joy of the people as they danced through their streets to their holy cemetery, which contains the bodies of some of Judaism’s most revered figured, the great twelfth-century thinker Maimonides among them. After witnessing that energetic parade, and all the joyful faces streaked with sweat, I could never again think that the Torah was a burden for Jews. The Torah was a gift, that much was obvious to me that day. Similarly, the Ten Commandments are God’s gift, not only to the Jews, but to us who would claim that we have been rescued from our slavery, brought out of bondage by a mighty hand, and have been promised a new land. In that new land we are commanded by that God to live together in a community of justice and righteousness. The Ten are the foundation document for that new community…

Our age needs the Ten Commandments again, but not as sterile laws, hung on school room doors and court room walls. We need the living and vital Ten Commandments, all Ten, to remind us of the God who gave them and to remind us of what that God wants us finally to become. (Dr. John Holbert, The Ten Commandments: The Great Texts—A Preaching Commentary, p. 137-138)


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What meaning for covenant do you see here?
  3. In what ways (if any) are these commandments formative for you?
  4. Which of these commandments or “groupings” is hardest for you—who God is, honoring Sabbath, or relating to others?
  5. Why do we often try to “legalize” the Ten Commandments?
  6. What would it mean to think of these Commandments as a “gift”?


NEW TESTAMENT: Philippians 3: 4b-14

To read the Lectionary Epistle passage, click here

Some of the language in this passage is just odd for us. The idea of confidence or boasting is usually not looked upon as a positive thing. (I mean, what happened to that whole humility thing?) And boasting because of privileges of birth and circumstance is even more bizarre. But here, Paul is making the claim that where boasting in other circumstances separates us from others, boasting or being in Christ unites all who boast for him. In the realm of the Spirit, distinctions are abolished. No one is better than the next.

This passage begins with Paul boasting about his own life and his own self. In fact, he sort of presents his resume’, as if he is quashing any readers or onlookers who might consider themselves above him. And then, just as quickly, he deflates himself. He essentially now claims that whatever good (or bad) that he’s done in the past is nothing in terms of his knowing Christ. We need to understand that Paul is not tossing away his past. He still claims it—good and bad. It is part of who he is. But he uses it to put it all in perspective. For him, the things that he valued in the past are no longer as important to him. (And the things that he regretted in his past are no longer in his way either.)

Paul now realizes that whoever and whatever he claims to be is because of God through Christ. The promise of new life is what now urges him forward in his journey. He, admittedly, is not there but he sees his journey as one of faith and one of life with Christ. This also sort of disputes those who claim that the “prize”, the “goal”, the “reward”—whatever they choose to call it—is because of who they are or what they’ve done. According to Paul, it is nothing WE do; rather, it is something that God does for us. Our journey, then, is a journey of faithfulness in the hope that God has promised.

We need at least four terms in English—“faith”, “belief”, “trust”, and “faithfulness”—to convey all the meanings of one Greek noun, pistis. The word represents more of a “totality” of life than any one of our translations suggest. To trust in something means to rely on it and complete trust means that there is no need to rely on anything else. So if we put our whole trust in God, we must abandon all other props in our lives. Paul emphasizes that he has not yet reached his goal, but the “yet” shows his trust in reaching it. For Paul, the “prize” for which he is aiming is the realization of his own calling from God brought to fulfillment.

This is also a treatise on faith itself. Paul would claim that blindly following rules of the religion (or even commandments) is not what brings one closer to God. That would be a belief that loses perspective, that lets the rules and the understandings get in the way of one’s faith. Paul is not claiming that he is better than others because he is better-versed in the faith; if anything, he is disputing that very claim.

Paul would probably contend that we are called to strip ourselves of those things that get in the way of our faith, that impede us on our journey toward that oneness with God. Paul is reminding us that included in that is a call to let go of our past, let go of the “I” that we’ve built ourselves up to be, and let go of the understandings that frame how we view God. It is a call to open ourselves to God’s movement in our lives and God’s guidance on this journey that we call faith. We’re all in this together. We’re all the same, journeying toward God, guided by God, thirsting for God. Tony Campolo tells this story in one of his online sermons:

Where do you meet Jesus? Well, first of all I contend you meet Jesus in suffering people. If you look deeply into the eyes of suffering people, you will have this eerie awareness that the same Jesus that died on the cross is staring back at you. Mother Teresa learned that, and I’m learning that.

I was walking down the street in Philadelphia and a bum came towards me. I mean a dirty, filthy guy. He was covered with soot from head to toe. You couldn’t believe how messed up he was. He had this huge beard and there was rotted food stuck in the beard. As he approached me, he held out a cup of McDonald’s coffee and said, “Hey mister, want some of my coffee?” I looked at his dirty, filthy personhood and said, “Thanks, but that’s okay,” and I walked by him. The minute I passed him, I knew I was doing the wrong thing, so I turned around and said, “Excuse me. I would like some of your coffee.” I took some of the coffee and sipped it and gave it back to him. I said, “You’re being generous. How come you’re being so generous today?” And this bum looked at me and he said, “Because the coffee was especially delicious today and I think that when God gives you something good, you ought to share it with people.” I didn’t know how to handle that, so I said, “Can I give you anything?” I thought that he would hit me for five dollars. He said, “No.” Then he said, “Yeah, yeah. I’ve changed my mind, there is something you can give me. You can give me a hug.” As I looked at him, I was hoping for the five dollars! He put his arms around me and I put my arms around him. And as I in my establishment dress and he in his filthy garb hugged each other on the street, I had the strange awareness that I wasn’t hugging a bum, I was hugging Jesus. I found Jesus in that suffering man.

Whenever you meet a suffering person, you will find that Jesus is there waiting to be loved in that individual. That’s why Jesus said, “In as much as ye do it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it unto me.” You cannot reach out to a person in need, you cannot embrace somebody who’s hurting, you cannot minister to somebody who is in desperate straits without having that eerie and wonderful awareness that Jesus is coming back at you right through that person. If there is anything that Mother Teresa would have taught us, that’s what she would have taught us. (Tony Campolo, “Knowing God”, 30 Good Minutes, October 26, 1997, available at, accessed 17 March, 2010).


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What relationship do you see in this to the Exodus passage?
  3. Are there things on your “resume’” that make faith a challenge for you?
  4. What happens to us and our relationships when we let things like that come into play?


GOSPEL: Matthew 21: 33-46

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

This passage continues from last week’s on the question of Jesus’ authority. Perhaps Jesus thought that if they didn’t get the first parable, he’d try another! It’s about a vineyard that has been carefully and lovingly planted by its owner. It is fertilized and watered; it is protected from harm; it is pruned and shaped, then it is tilled and aged to perfection. The vineyard has all of the necessary resources to produce a wonderfully rich harvest. It is the same story of God forming and reforming, of God breathing life into Creation, told a different way. And, again, the one who planted the vineyard entrusts its care to someone else.

But, the text claims, the harvest is not what was expected. Those responsible for the vineyard have not been good stewards. The harvest has fallen prey to greed and selfishness and a lack of trust between the workers and the owner. And so the owner sends his son, an extension and part of the owner’s own self. But the world rejects the son and, thereby rejects the owner. But the vineyard is not a vineyard like those to which the world is accustomed. And in a sweeping reversal, the owner takes that which has been rejected and makes it the thing most precious, the very foundation of the vineyard itself.

The tale is obviously meant to be read as an allegory, which means every word and image essentially means something else. So, don’t get too wrapped up in a literal understanding of it. In the first century understanding of it, the hearers would have remembered another tale of a vineyard from the writings that we attribute to the Prophet Isaiah. That writing depicts the vineyard as the people of Israel, the pleasant planting that had not turned out quite the way that God envisioned. But just as the understanding of God’s Creation becomes wider and more encompassing, the writer of Matthew’s version of the Gospel, takes this vineyard image and lays it out as a metaphor of the whole Kingdom of God, a sweeping reversal of powers and kingdoms to which we are accustomed, a Kingdom built with Christ as the head and cornerstone, the Christ that humanity once rejected. But even that rejection did not undo the vision that God holds. Instead God once again re-visioned the Kingdom and gathered us in. Once again, God invited us into God’s Creative activity. And that makes us, my friends, the laborers.

In the context in which it was written, the addressees are clearly the chief priests and Pharisees, the Jewish leadership, rather than the people as a whole. From that, the writer may be trying to claim that God will replace the false leadership with faithful leaders. But this understanding has through the years fueled anti-Semitism and implied that God has rejected Israel. I don’t think that’s really the intent. Lest we Christians become comfortable with the idea of Jesus rejecting those of the Jewish tradition on those grounds, we need to remember that we, too, are really good at laying out our rules and our understandings of who God is. We, too, are good at shutting people out of the kingdom and presenting a vision that is not in line with the one that God holds.

The focus here has more to do with the making of a new people (or a remaking of the “old people”), which would obviously call for new leadership. But the text claims that God’s people are now called to carry responsibility for enabling Israel, or God’s Kingdom, to bear fruit. The new people will now carry responsibility for tending the vineyard. The rejected stone and his people will assume leadership. The community is now in a position to learn and to celebrate the life of God in the vineyard. But the community is us.

It all but forces us to look at our lives, our specific attitudes and actions, in light of whether they represent an embrace or a rejection of the message of Jesus, the Son of God. As Christians we do well to focus not so much on what the passage has to say about Jewish leaders as what it implies about Christians. The “others” to whom the vineyard is given over in verse 41 are also responsible to the owner, charged with producing the fruits of the kingdom (v. 43).

What implications might this parable hold for how we are producing a harvest for God’s kingdom in our personal and public lives? What would this parable have to say to that troubling relationship we have with our child, our parent? What does it have to say to our inability to forgive ourselves? What does it have to say to us as we live, knowing that someone, whose opinion matters deeply to us, condemns us in some central way? What does this parable have to do with our reflection on the criminal justice system, the death penalty? What relevance might it have to our responsibility to help people in our society who, some would say, have brought their troubles upon themselves? The wicked tenants try God’s patience. So do we. We don’t know how they will respond next to the extended, undeserved mercy of God. How will we? (Alyce McKenzie, “Who are the Wicked Tenants?”, available at, accessed 28 September, 2011.)


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What is uncomfortable about this passage for you?
  3. How do you relate that to the Exodus passage?
  4. This Sunday is World Communion. What does that say about the vineyard?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


If indeed we love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strength, we are going to have to stretch our hearts, open our minds, and strengthen our souls, whether our years are three score and ten or not yet twenty. God cannot lodge in a narrow mind. God cannot lodge in a small heart. To accommodate God, they must be palatial. (William Sloane Coffin)


I want to beg you as much as I can…to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves…Do not now seek answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into answer.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet)


Christ became human that we might become divine. (Athanasius, 3rd century)





Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away, see in this space our fears and our dreamings, brought here to you in the light of this day. Gather us in—the lost and forsaken, gather us in—the blind and the lame; call to us now and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name.


We are the young—our lives are a mystery, we are the old—who yearn for your face, we have been sung throughout all of history, called to be light to the whole human race. Gather us in—the rich and the haughty, gather us in—the proud and the strong; give us a heart so meek and so lowly, give us the courage to enter the song.


Here we will take the wine and the water, here we will take the bread of new birth, here you shall call your sons and your daughters, call us anew to be salt for the earth. Give us to drink the wine of compassion, give us to eat the bread that is you; nourish us well, and teach us to fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true.


Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven, light years away, but here in this place the new light is shining, now is the Kingdom, now is the day. Gather us in and hold us forever, gather us in and make us your own; gather us in—all peoples together, fire of love in our flesh and our bone. Amen.


 (“Gather Us In”, by Marty Haugen, in The Faith We Sing # 2236)