What I’m Thinking: Not the Owners

In religious leadership, it is terribly easy to believe that authority is ownership, and to forget that we are stewards of God’s garden.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the twenty-fiirst chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 21:33-46).

In last week’s gospel reading — which I didn’t talk about on What I’m Thinking — chief priests and other officials of the Jerusalem Temple demanded to know Jesus’ authority for doing the things that he was doing. Jesus responded by asking them where the baptism of John came from: was it of human origin, or was it divine? There was no safe answer to that question, so the chief priests and the other officials said, “We do not know,” and Jesus in turn refused to tell them where his authority came from.

Jesus then told a couple of stories, and the second of them is the reading for this week. Jesus spoke of a vineyard, and the owner was absent. During his absence, the tenants kind of took it over. The owner sent a series of messengers and managers, but they returned without having had any effect on the tenants’ behavior, and indeed they even beat some of them up, committed violence against them. The owner said, “I will send my son and they’ll listen to him,” but when the son arrived the tenants killed him and tossed his body out of the vineyard.

Those religious leaders knew perfectly well that this was a story told directly at them. Jesus was telling them that he believed that they were the tenants, the ones who were supposed to care for the vineyard of God’s planting: the religious heritage of the people of Israel. Jesus was telling them that they were abusing that authority, that they were misusing that power, that they were not tending the vineyard, that they were ignoring all the messengers and the managers: those prophets and the law of Israel.

And he warned that if there were to be someone with the authority of a son, well, what would happen then?

At the end of the story, the chief priests and other leaders, knowing that Jesus had called him out, wanted to kill him, arrest him, but again for fear of the crowds they let it be — for a few days.

It’s a warning to all of us in religious leadership that is so easy to think that what we have been given to care for and nurture and tend is ours. We are stewards of the earth not owners. We are caretakers for congregations not bosses.

It’s also a warning to all of us in faith. It is so easy as I said to take ownership of things and to assume power that is not ours, when the power belongs to God and it is to be used for the care of God’s people, for the nurture of God’s garden.

Some at least amongst those religious leaders of the first century did not take the lesson and they were part of a conspiracy to get Jesus arrested and executed by the Romans. It’s not something that I would like to repeat. But the hazard It’s always there, and the solution is always there, to recognize God’s garden for what it is and whose it is and to do the work in joy and in appreciation of all that God causes to grow before our wandering eyes.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on October 3, 2023

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