Our gospel lesson harkens back to this story so listen for parallels as you hear God’s word from Matthew’s gospel.
A while back Lee and I met up with some of his work friends in Las Vegas. It was my first real trip as a tourist. I had been there once before on a church youth trip, we stopped for an all-you-can-eat breakfast. But needless to say, we did not explore the sights! On this recent trip, there were four couples. On the first night, Tom and Diane and Lee and I walked the strip- from the MGM Grand to the Bellagio to see the dancing waters. We had lots of fun! There was a big music concert held just outside the city and we saw people coming and going at all hours. I will say I almost made it out of Vegas without gambling, but tried my hand at a slot machine at the airport. I know not the best place to turn to the dark side. This weekend Tom and Diane came out to visit us from Texas. We traveled up the coast and showed them around Santa Cruz. I kept reflecting on how the first time I met these new friends we were in Las Vegas, and how the second time I see them is the same week the whole world has been focused on the tragic event in Las Vegas. The deadliest shooting in American history that shocked us all Monday morning. One man killed 57 people, for no apparent reason, and injured 489 more.
So when I read our gospel lesson on Monday morning, I said “Really God?” We are looking at the one and only parable of killing in the New Testament. It is referred to as the Parable of the Wicked Tenant, but this week I renamed it the Parable of Killing.
Maybe exploring this killing found in the word of God can help us to understand the senseless killing in our world. I was shocked to discover that there have been 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days in the US. A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot in one incident not including the shooter. Data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive reveals a shocking human toll: In the US there is a mass shooting every nine out of 10 days on average. Every nine out of 10 days a mass shooting. This past week alone there were 6 other mass shooting in addition to Las Vegas. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2017/oct/02/america-mass-shootings-gun-violence.
Eugene Peterson New Testament Scholar, once suggested that parables are narrative time-bombs. These simple-looking stories lodged inside people’s hearts and imaginations, slowly tick-tick-ticking away until finally, BOOM, they exploded into a new awareness when the real meaning behind Jesus’ homely stories about farmers and seeds and sheep and bread-making finally sunk in. In this case, it did not take long before this parable blew up in the faces of those listening to Jesus. The Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jerusalem knew at once that “Jesus was speaking against them.” It made them furious and they were ready, right then and there, to arrest him and be done with this meddlesome Nazarene once and for all. (Sermons.com, Scott Hoezee)
Three things we can learn from this parable; greed led to the killings, Jesus changed the status quo, and God never gave up on the people.
Clearly, the tenants were acting on their own best interest. They had a good thing going, land to work, no landowner around, a way to make money. It sounds like they were good at growing crops. But the problem came when they believed that everything belonged to them. When they got greedy to the point of taking life. The tenants decided their financial gain was more valuable than the life of 7 people. In 1927, the massacre of seven people on Valentine’s Day ended the legal use of automatic weapons. Al Capone, a greedy man by all accounts, killed seven rival gang members. The carnage was so unthinkable The National Firearms Act of 1934 passed Congress. Many of the mass shootings today are gang related, but we are not outraged by the carnage any more. We are numb to it.
Las Vegas woke us up again. Not responding to the Las Vegas tragedy, with new limits, new gun controls, means we value financial gain more than human life. That is greed at its worst.
Secondly, Jesus changed the status quo with this parable. The religious leaders had the power, but failed to recognize Jesus as God’s Son. Hence the part about killing the landowner’s son for his inheritance. But like any good parable, you are going along thinking it is convicting someone else until boom, the religious leaders get Jesus’ point. They know about the builder’s stone being rejected, Isaiah prophesied about it. Then Jesus says, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you.” Jesus is transferring the responsibility to care and contribute to God’s kingdom to those who follow Jesus; disrupting the status quo. Being faithful can mean we change the status quo, say this is the time for reform.
I was disturbed by this parable when I read it. I was heart sick when I heard of the violent killing in Las Vegas. Why was life the price paid, to get these leader’s attention. But then I realized it takes horrific acts to get people to see, to question, to change. My prayer and hope is that we can change the status quo in our country in relationship to guns. Not ban guns, honor the Second Amendment, while also saying life is more valuable than any amendment. Life is a gift from God and somehow we have decided it is Ok for people to play God by stealing other people’s life. God is God and we are not.
We have learned that greed led to the killing, Jesus changed the status quo and we might need to do the same. Finally, let us remember that God did not give up on God’s people. At the beginning of the sermon I asked you to note the similarities between the Old Testament reading and the gospel reading. Both deal with vineyards, in both the landowner planted, fenced, dug and built a watchtower. These were common practices but I also believe the parallels help us to look back to parable in Isaiah. Here God is singing to Israel a love song. Isaiah’s God delights in the vineyard, sings to it, wooing it as a lover would the beloved. Yet the vineyard produces wild or rotten grapes that do not please God, the landowner. We can be wild grapes, doing things against God’s will. The shooter in Las Vegas certainly was rotten. But that is why we rest in the grace of Jesus Christ for the ways we fall short. We abide in the grace that offers us new life. God did not give up on Israel, the people of Judah. Instead, God shared disappointment when God “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (v.7).
So it makes me wonder how God sees our country that breeds these mass shootings? Scripture tells us God wants justice but on Sunday night we gave him bloodshed and crying. There are far too many mass shootings to blame them on individuals. God wants to sing a love song to us, claiming us as God’s own, but we need to address this epidemic. May the events in Las Vegas serve to be a parable of killing that will one day will prove to explode in people’s consciousness, that as a nation we must change the status quo and address the senseless murders in our communities. Amen.