On Monday morning we left the house early. I was headed off to a conference and my mother decided to tag along to visit her sister for a couple of days. (If you don’t know this yet, my mother moved in with me on Labor Day. No doubt, that is the subject of another ‘story,’ but for now let me say that all is going well.)
The car was packed up and we were doing one last walk through to be sure nothing had been left behind. There was plenty of food and water for Shadow, my cat, for a couple of days. Windows were closed and blinds drawn. Just before we walked out the door, Mother walked back and closed the door to her room. Her thought was to keep the cat out of there while we were away.
On Tuesday at about 5:30 p.m. I received a text from a friend who had promised to stop by to move the garbage cans to the garage, to bring in the mail, and just for good measure, to check on Shadow. The text began: “Just found Shadow locked in Kathleen’s room…” (Our plan to keep her out had failed. Obviously, she was already ‘in.’) She went on to write that she had picked up the earrings that Shadow had used as playthings. And she had cleaned up the most obvious results of a cat being locked in a room for 35 hours.
Now if you have a cat, you know how they can seem to ‘own the place.’ Shadow, in particular, is not
as amiable as some cats. She doesn’t take well to strangers, particularly if you move quickly. Sometimes, especially under stress, she will even hiss at me — forgetting, simply not knowing, or just not really believing, that she really does owe her entire ‘way of life’ to me. I provide the shelter, the food and water, and the fresh litter in her box. I am even generous with special treats. I pet her when she lets me and I try to be sure she doesn’t get locked in places away from her food and water and litter box. All she has to do is ‘live there.’ One would think she would ‘get this.’ She does not. And I’m pretty certain that even her time inadvertently locked in my mother’s room this past week did nothing to remind her of the certain truth that, in fact, she would be lost without us. In fact, you can see her here, having taken over my bed as though it is her own…
It’s easy to see it with a cat or a dog or a child, even, for that matter. Sometimes, it seems, it’s not so easy for the rest of us to comprehend.
Now, of course, the parable Jesus offers now is told in the extreme. One cannot help but be outraged at the criminal behavior of the tenants as he describes it and them now. For those of us listening in it is obvious that the owner of the vineyard has done everything to make their ‘ways of life’ possible. He has planted the vines, placed a fence around it, put in the wine press and built a watch tower to protect it all. To be sure, the tenants are doing the day to day work, but none of that work would be theirs to do if someone else hadn’t made it possible. One can hardly believe it when they murder not just one envoy of slaves, but two. When the owner’s son meets the same fate, we find ourselves shaking our heads that those tenants could possibly believe the inheritance would then somehow actually be theirs to receive and enjoy. As though the owner could forget what was done to him.
Yes, the parable Jesus offers now offers an extreme image. And yet, it is also so for you and for me. We forget that we are simply ‘tenants’ here. We fail to remember that everything we are and everything we think we ‘own’ are just on loan to us. These homes, acres, jobs, congregations, children, spouses, communities — even our very bodies — were created by God and given to us for this little span of time. And yet, how often do I behave as though it all ‘belongs to me?’ In a sense am I also not ‘taking the lives of those sent to collect the rent’ whenever I live as though it is all mine? Indeed, the flip side of that is that every day I fail to entrust it all to God, I am also taking on far more than I am intended to hold.
It is a hard word we hear today. It is an important word. And while it may not seem like it at first, it is also a life-giving word. You and I are here because of God’s generosity and God’s tender care. God planted the vineyard. And put in the fence. And the wine press. And the watch tower. God has given us all that we need. All we are asked to do is remember that. It is God’s Vineyard. It is all gift. And even the remembering of this is meant to be a gift.
On any given day, all I have to do is look at my cat, Shadow, to remember how ridiculous it is to believe otherwise.
- How do you hear Jesus’ parable today? Does the fact that he paints such an extreme picture make it easier or more difficult to apply to your life?
- I have made the parallel with my cat to help me understand Jesus’ words now. What example might you use from your experience?
- It is a hard word that Jesus offers now. It is also meant to be a life-giving word. How does the understanding that it is all a gift from God bring you life?