I have read a bit online about the beheadings that ISIS is doing, but I cannot compel myself to watch any of the videos. I have a hard time with the pornographic fake violence coming from Hollywood let alone seeing real life pornographic violence being used to further fear. This is not new. Beheadings, stoning, crucifixions and other means of execution have been used throughout history to scare people into either following a cause, submitting to power, or accepting status. There is no difference today. Interestingly, of the three forms of execution, the beheading is the quickest and least painful of the three, though at the same time, for many it is the most effective in causing fear.
I bring this up because the passage this week is all about a land grab, unjust killing, and dishonesty. This Sunday’s scriptures have Jesus engaging the chief priests and the Pharisees in a parable. We know that Jesus often uses the parables to trap the priests in a logic game, often making them come to a public profession that their way is wrong.
While the gospels do not tell many stories of the violent nature of the groups in power, outside of the crucifixion narrative, they do paint a picture of fear which had been established not only among the followers of Christ, but also in many of the people that would become followers. One method that is common is the act of stoning. It is horrible; if someone is lucky enough to be knocked unconscious early then maybe it is not that bad, but think about your body being pummeled with rocks and stones until you die. From witness testimonies of people who have seen modern day stoning, the pain is indescribable. Even for many in the crowd the pain is unbearable as you hear bones break and the stoned person crying out.
In this passage Jesus talks about a field, where the owner built and worked hard to establish the vineyard. He leased the vineyard to tenant who was tasked with caring for the land and he would come back at the harvest. The problem was, the tenants did not want to give back the land; moreover, not only that but the tenants killed anyone who attempted to come through means of stoning. The owner was left no choice but to go back in person, and have no mercy for those who abused the relationship and kill every last one of them.
The people on the land asserted terror to take over something that was not theirs. Obviously this is not about the vineyard, but about God’s kingdom. God came into the world, established good land and everything that would be needed for a successful existence. But people, in this case the chief priests and the Pharisees, got greedy and turned from God, willing to kill and terrorize anyone who threatened them. In fact, you could say that they would do anything to keep their power.
I think this is a great text for world communion Sunday because it reminds us of two very important things. First, this is God’s land and we are working to keep it going, not for ourselves. Second, we need to recognize how quick we are to use fear and violence to maintain our power. And third, that no matter how much power and fear we enforce on others, God can still come back and assert more on us.
For the chief priests and the Pharisees, they quickly realized that they were the ones who were the tenant who turned on the landowner who was really God. Like anyone, they were ready to take down Christ, but then they had fear. The were afraid that the crowd who saw Jesus as a prophet might turn on them, and they left him be, but in the Greek there are pointers to the revenge they would get, that ultimate act of terrorism we know so well, an act predicted in the parable itself. Interestingly, even knowing what was right, the chief priests and the Pharisees continued to conspire along with the other groups to “take down” Christ.
Unfortunately, I am pessimistic when it comes to world peace; while I believe it could happen, I think people love power too much to change, just like the Pharisees. People are addicted to the pornographic violent images of war and terrorism, and we often cannot allow ourselves to be welcoming of whomever God might send our way, because we are so busy fighting to protect what we claim to be ours.
So when I think of world communion, especially this year, I am seeking ways that we might find peace and understanding. Where we can set down the stones of power and pain and open our hearts to God and each other by turning from violence and seeking love.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen