The Owner of the Vineyard

Matthew 21:33-46

I cleaned out my garden last week.

As usual, I started out ambitious and hopeful in the spring, only this year? It seems that neglect rather ruled the season.

My four tomato plants did not produce nearly as much as they normally do, although they grew into al most tree-like structures which looked like they should have given more than they did.

My basil went to seed and I never did get around to pinching off the flowers.

And the cucumbers and squash which I always plant along the fence line of the old now unused dog pen?  They got so overrun with weeds that I never got a single butternut squash this season and only a handful of zucchini, for that matter. (And who only gets a handful of zucchini, after all?)

The only thing that really worked out this year was the garlic, and that’s only because my sister, Martha, both planted it last fall and harvested it midsummer when she was here.

For that matter, the raspberries did pretty well, also, but that’s only because they require very little oversight whatsoever.

If the ‘owner of the vineyard’ had come demanding the produce, I’m afraid I would have had very little to offer.  Indeed, though the outcome was entirely different, carrying the metaphor to its end, like the workers in the vineyard now, I had ‘failed to tend the vineyard as though it was not ultimately mine.’

And so, last week with clippers and yard waste bags, I cut those wayward plants into pieces and stuffed them away to be carried off on Friday morning to the place where all of our yard waste here goes to find its next life… and to tell you the absolute truth, I’m not even sure where that is. And I have been gratefully reliant on the harvests of friends who did so, so much better than I did this year, at ‘tending their vineyards.’

Indeed, I turn to Jesus’ story now and I find myself thinking of all the ‘vineyards’ to which one might understand this metaphor to be in reference to:

  • A world which we treat as our own, which by our neglect and overuse we realize more deeply every day will likely not provide for the needs of generations to come and which will lead to the suffering of the most vulnerable on our planet, even as it already is.
  • Nations where the rich and powerful stay rich and powerful, leaving the rest to too much fend for themselves.
  • Communities where the poor remain desperately poor and too much fall between the cracks as they seek to find better lives for themselves and their children.
  • Congregations which often struggle to discern their reason for being, now more than ever.
  • Families, yes our families, who whether we are together or apart, need each other.
  • Or even just the vineyards of our own hearts which become overstretched, or which simply forget what matters most…

Oh, I expect my offering here sounds dire, but then so are the words of Jesus now, calling us, calling me to wonder at my own response when the owner of the vineyard keeps reaching out, reminding me, reminding us, of Who it all belongs to in the first place.

Indeed, I start with the vineyard now, as Jesus does, wondering at where and how I see it, experience it, in my own world, in my own life.

However, the part of the story that still and always gives me hope, is that the Owner does not give up.

The Owner just keeps on sending messengers, even to the point of risking that which is most precious in the life of his son, as a living reminder that they have forgotten what ultimately matters most, that the Vineyard is not theirs at all.

And yes, it is a word of judgment at the end for we are told that this will not, cannot go on forever. That not only will we see the consequences of our forgetting this truth in the life and health of our world, our communities, our families, our own selves, but that one day if we continue on a path of destruction, even our status as ‘workers in the vineyard’ will simply be taken away and handed over to someone else who will remember and live like it is so.

But for now, at least for now, it is not too late, it seems to me.

It is not too late to ‘clean out our gardens’ and in a spirit of repentance hear the call to do it differently in the next season.

And surely this is where we begin to do so, in the remembering that it is all held and loved by the Owner of the vineyard, the only One who can hold it all.

I mean, consider with me if the parable Jesus told today were actually true. (And it is.  Of course, it is.) What kind of a world were those workers building for themselves? One marked by fear, by unbridled anger, by greed, by violence, by a constant need to ‘protect what is theirs?’ It was a world destined to cave in on itself sooner or later, no matter if the Owner sent his own son or not.

To be sure, under the benevolent watch of the Owner, we are invited to build a world, to tend a vineyard, where we realize that it is not ours at all — only ours to tend and care for in the best way possible, meaning that the fear and anger and greed and violence do not win and the vulnerable are cared for and all are fed. And isn’t that the vineyard we want for ourselves and those we love?  Just as the Owner wants for all of God’s beloved?

As for me in the days to come I am taking this metaphor of the vineyard, and yes, my too much neglected garden this summer, and wondering at its meaning in the ‘vineyards ‘where I have been placed.  For instance,

  • I am wondering at how it speaks in a community too much divided by poverty and race and wondering at what it looks like to tend those who slip between the cracks.
  • I am wondering at how it speaks, inviting a congregation to continue to give beyond itself in ever more meaningful ways
  • I am wondering at how it speaks to my own weary heart, my own tired body, even now fighting off an autumn cold which reminded me again that even this body is not my own.
  • And I am wondering at how the Owner of the vineyard would have me convey this as ‘good news’ next Sunday when God’s people gather at the corner of 3rd and Pine in DeKalb, Illinois.

How about you?

What ‘vineyard’ do you find yourself in today?

And what difference will it make if you remember that it is not ‘your’ vineyard, but is simply entrusted to you?

Indeed, what does this story of Jesus make you wonder now?


  1. Donna Edmundson says:

    May God comfort and heal you as that dreaded autumn cold tries to steal your well being. I appreciate the reminder that “the battle (vineyard) belongs to the Lord”.
    I’m blessed to have found your blog which stirred up in me a Message for our congregation yesterday as a candidate for Lay Minister in the United Methodist California Pacific Annual Conference. I look forward to your messages from you that God has gifted me. We go forward and must not beat ourselves up for garden plans gone awry. I can relate having this year seen a few beloved indoor plants wither and die because God had other plans for my time. Other plants were saved by me giving them up for adoption :). Thank you again for your words of lament and hope.
    Donna Edmundson
    1st UMC of Reseda
    Southern California
    I give you greetings from our pastor Rev Christian Jung.

  2. Your wisdom always gives me awe!!! and it shows me again, it is all about us. Thanks you Janet for your wisdom that you able to share and it does speak to us all. I am looking of using We are They as my theme for this Sunday. Thanks again for your sharing your thoughts. Alena.

Comments are closed.