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Proper 22 | Ordinary Time 27, Cycle A

Sunday between October 2 and October 8 inclusive

“God Will Prevail!” is the basic message of the parable about the renters in the vineyard of Matthew 21:33-43 and in one way or another it can be seen to be the basic message of each of the other texts selected for this week as well. Therefore, we can build an excellent worship service around this theme. That “God Will Prevail!” is good news for those who are poor and oppressed, for those who are ill or worried. It is bad news for those who are wicked, who are oppressors of the poor, who think that their own evil will can prevail. We are called through the Word of God in these texts to proclaim this week that God will prevail, a message of judgment and a message of hope.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
The proclamation, “I am the Lord your God…” followed by the strong parenesis, “You shall have no…” in the form of the basic Ten Commandments are certainly emphatic statements that “God Will Prevail!” The concluding comments in 20:18-20 are even more emphatic. The people are said to have been afraid and trembling when they heard the voice of God accompanied by the thunderings and the lightnings, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking. In this dramatic scene there is no doubt that God will prevail.

Psalm 19
Poetically the sun and the expanse of the skies during the day and during the night are said to proclaim the glory of God. More specifically, the Torah God has given and the precious commandments God provides are most excellent testimonies that God will prevail.

Matthew 21:33-46
We have the parable about the greedy renters in the vineyard here and in three other documents. It is in an earlier form in Mark 12:1-12, in a similar form in Luke 20:9-19, and it is in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas 65, published in The Nag Hammadi Library (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 125-126, and elsewhere. The form of the parable in the Gospel of Thomas is of particular interest because in the Gospel of Thomas, unlike the forms of the parable in the Synoptic Gospels, the parable is not fashioned into a controversy story directed against Jews and is not allegorized in order to make its details conform to what was known about the crucifixion of Jesus. This segment of the Gospel of Thomas, therefore, is one of the most valuable and helpful portions of that document because it may give us access to the parable that is closer to the way in which the Jesus of history used it than we have in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. It is likely that when Jesus developed and used this parable it was an incisive call to repentance. Those who first heard the parable from Jesus were to be drawn into the story. They were to be led to realize that “We are the renters! The vineyard belongs to God! Regardless of what we do, God will prevail!”

For us also, the parable should be told in a way that it will evoke self-examination leading to immediate repentance and a positive response to God. We should focus our attention, therefore, on the climax of the Matthew 21:33-46 account, the point in the parable in verses 40-41 proclaiming what the owner of the vineyard will do. We are renters in the vineyard, not owners of it. The vineyard belongs to God! “God will prevail!”

Isaiah 5:1-7
In this “love song” of the Isaiah tradition, as in the parable about the greedy renters in the Synoptic Gospels, the physical setting is a vineyard and the basic message is that God will prevail. There are significant differences, however, as well. In the Isaiah account the vineyard is a collective symbol for Israel. It includes no judgment of individuals. In the parable in the Synoptic Gospels and Gospel of Thomas accounts the renters are individuals, and they are condemned as individuals. In the parable the vineyard is productive. In the Isaiah account the vineyard does not produce good grapes. It produces only wild, foul-smelling grapes! In the Isaiah account the vineyard is abandoned. It becomes a wasteland. In the parable the vineyard is productive and is given as a productive vineyard into the care of other renters. The Isaiah account is clearly intended to cause Israel as a whole to understand why the land that had been beautiful has become a wasteland. The Isaiah account is presented as a harsh, realistic self-criticism of the nation and people collectively.

The parable of Jesus was most likely originally intended by Jesus to cause individual Jews to be self-critical of their own actions and attitudes. Within the early developing Church, however, the parable of Jesus was allegorized far beyond Jesus’ own analogies of the owner of the vineyard (God) and the renters (the individual Jews around Jesus who heard his parable). Also, the parable of Jesus came to be used already in Mark and even more in Matthew and in Luke as a controversy dialogue account used by followers of Jesus against another religious community, the Jewish people collectively.

As the parable of Jesus was further allegorized and transformed by followers of Jesus into a controversy dialogue within a series of conflict stories, details from the Isaiah 5:1-7 song were brought into the parable. If we wish to get back as much as possible to the parable as used by the Jesus of history, we should separate the parable from the Isaiah account and see the parable as significant and applicable to each of us. We should not use the parable as an allegory and conflict story in condemnation of Israel, but as a parable of Jesus intended to lead each of us to repentance, gratitude to God, and to a closer relationship to God in Christ. If we use the parable as evidence of God’s rejection of Israel and of God’s covenant with Israel, we must realize if God has rejected Israel, God might some day also reject the Church.

Psalm 80:7-15
This interesting psalm is a poetic rendition of ways in which the Israelites saw the hand of God in the “rise and fall” of their nation. Israel is depicted as a small vine the Lord brought out of Egypt and planted in a place the Lord had chosen. Under the watchful eye of the Lord it spread to the Great Sea and to the River. Then, however, the Lord broke down its walls. Strangers now pluck its fruit. They have burned the vine with fire and have cut it down.

Prayers and pleas are offered to God. Promises are made. Nevertheless, the people realize that in comparison to God they are powerless. God will prevail!

Philippians 3:4b-14
Although the Apostle Paul apparently during his earlier life had thought he himself was living rightfully and was walking in the path leading him to God, he had learned that by opposing the followers of Jesus he was traveling on a path that was for him a “dead end.” He had come to realize whatever righteousness he had was entirely a gift from God that had come to Paul through the faith of Jesus in God and of some of the followers of Jesus in Jesus as the Son of God. For Paul, not he himself but God in Christ had prevailed.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen