Sunday, October 5, 2014

Two Boys and a Truck

MATTHEW 21:33-46
33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

This is the story of two boys and a truck. 
Once upon a time, about two days ago, there were two boys who had a house full of toys. So many toys that there are bins in the living room, bins in the den, bins in their all-too-small bedroom. Piles of toys on the stairs and trails of toys into the kitchen. And the trucks. So many trucks. Trucks that carry other trucks. Trucks that move by themselves. Trucks made of wood. Trucks made of plastic with flashing lights and real working doors. Trucks you can build yourself. Big trucks. Little trucks. Trucks for the sandbox and for the bean box and for the rice box. Trucks that squish play dough into beams and gravel and rotten fish. 

Boy number one, let’s call him “Levi,” is contentedly playing with a truck. Zooming it back and forth on the carpet, banging it on the coffee table, making his version of truck noises as he plays. 
Boy number two, let’s call him “Jonah,” who knows he has mountains of trucks, truck-fulls of trucks, sees “Levi” with that truck, and suddenly, he has to play with that truck. No other truck will do. The truck that has a lift bucket, the truck that’s also a crane, the truck that dumps it’s load all by itself, is NOTHING compared to this truck. He. must. have. this. truck.

So he takes it from him. 
And Levi screams. And takes it back.
And they fight. “It’s mine!” they say. “I want it!” they cry. “You can’t have it!” they yell.
And, dare I say, the boy we hypothetically call “Jonah” hits Levi and takes the truck back. 
And the two fight some more. 
They yell at each other. They cry. And, if the boy we’ll call “Levi” were a bit older, I bet you fifty bucks that he’d hit Jonah back. And they fight. And cry and carry on. 

And forget about the truck.

But momma has had it. She’s tried reasoning with them. She’s tried offering other trucks. She’s told them that we don’t hit. Ever. That they can share the truck. 

But no dice. 

They’re still fighting. Even though the truck has disappeared somewhere underneath the couch with the wheels still spinning. 

They’re fighting. Over the truck. But they’ve forgotten the truck.

But momma hasn’t. Momma thinks she knows that this whole problem has started with the truck, so she takes the truck away. Puts it up high where neither of them can get to it. 
There. Problem solved. Right?

Nope. now Momma’s the bad guy.

Commence the crying. The flailing. The kicking and the back arching. 
Two boys who were once fighting each other, are now a united front, a coalition against the common enemy, the Momma, who wanted to end the trauma, who took away the truck.

Annnnnd. Scene.

Part Two.
This is the Story of the Vineyard Workers.

Once upon a time, a landowner planted a vineyard. A big one. It’s got a wine press and a watchtower. And he leases it to some tenants and goes to another country.
When the grapes are big and red and sweet, it’s time to harvest them, and the landowner wants his share; he wants his rent money, as is fair, as was part of the agreement between the tenants and the landowner. 
So the landowner sends some guys to come and collect the harvest. 
And they fight. “It’s mine!” they say. “I want it!” they cry. “You can’t have it!” they yell. 
And when that doesn’t work, they start hitting. They start stoning. They kill a guy.
And the landowner sends more guys. And the tenants kill more guys.
Dare I say, by the time these two groups have come through to collect their landlord’s rent, the crops have withered on the vine. The grapes have gone rotten in the cellars. The grapes have been too long in the sun, have molded and shrunk and gotten all gooey underfoot. The grapes are no longer good for wine. 
The issue no longer is about grapes and harvests and agreements. The violence has escalated and they have forgotten what the issue was about in the first place. 
So finally, the landowner sends his own son. Surely, they’ll respect him, surely they’ll see his authority. Surely they’ll get their act together.

There. Problem solved. 

Nope. They kill the son, too.

So, Jesus asks the chief priests and scribes, the pharisees and the folks with power and control and those who are happy with the status quo, what’s this landowner, obviously a metaphor for God, what’s this landowner gonna do?

Kill ‘em. Kill ‘em all. They say.

They Say.

Take the “truck” away, punish those at fault, hit back, kill ‘em all. Give them what’s coming to them. Fight fire with fire. Kill the killers. That’s what he’ll do, they say.

And we assume that’s the end of the story. We assume that Jesus is complicit in the answer that the chief priests and scribes and those who have lived by the sword give him. We assume that this is a parable about the end of days and about how God is the Almighty Smiter who’s gonna come in and torch everyone who betrayed God, who’s gonna suck them into hell, who’s gonna zap us all for betraying Jesus, nailing him on the cross, leaving him there, exposed to die, offering him sour wine and taunting him with our words and taking his clothes. We think this parable is about the same things we always think about — that the only way to get justice is to do what they did to us. The only way to find peace is through war. Through surgical strikes and necessary, but regrettable casualties. Collateral damage. 
That landowner is gonna bring his tanks and his guns and his stealth bombers and put them all to a miserable death. Right?

That’s what we assume is the end of the story.

But we are so engrained in this culture of violence. This culture of might makes right. Of what, if we want to get all heady and philosophical, Rene Girard calls “mimetic desire” — the wanting of what everyone else has so much that we’ll use violence to get it, and when we get so wrapped up in the violence that we forget about the truck or the grapes get withered on the vine, we need to blame someone for it, so we create a scapegoat and we sacrifice him. And then the violence ends. Until next time.

So we think that Jesus agrees with the scribes and the pharisees, and we turn this parable into a story about what happens when you piss God off.
But listen. Listen carefully to what Jesus says to them:

“have you not read the scriptures?”
Do you not realize how many times in your history you’ve made God mad, how many times you’ve murdered God’s prophets and killed God’s beloveds?
Do you get that you’re still here? Your whole history is full of violence and chaos and scapegoating and more violence. And here you are. Here I AM, a gift to you, and you’re going to kill me too. You’re going to convict me to a violent death. 
Haven’t you read the scriptures?
Don’t you see what’s there? 

You’re so stuck in your cycle of violence that you don’t even get that the landowner has NOT come to condemn. The landowner isn’t going to come in with tanks and rocket grenade launchers and squish us all like a bug. You’re so stuck. Even though we have thousands of years of stories to try to convince you otherwise. 

God tells us, “This new story I’m writing is really the story I’ve been trying to tell you all along. 
The cornerstone isn’t made of riches and gold and slavery and power and life insurance and gated communities. The cornerstone is the rejected broken body of my son. Who won’t come back to life to condemn, to fight back, to torture and punish. He’ll come back to have roasted fish and fresh bread with his friends on the beach. He’ll come back to say, “peace to you.”

But you’re stuck, Jesus says. So you’re going to plot my death. 
You’re going to kill me too, because you think violence is the only answer. 
And THAT’s going to be your downfall. Your insistence on violence, on having what someone else has until you fight over it until you forget about what you’ve been fighting about in the first place, THAT’s what’s going to crush you. 

But that’s not the end of the story. 
Because just as you will break me, will crush me, will hang me from a cross and laugh and think the solution has been made, your violence will crush you.
And just as I will be raised from the dead, just as I will conquer violence and death and the hatred that will put me up on that tree, I will raise you. I will raise you from your hatred. From your violence. From your scapegoating and your mimetic desire. 

I come to bring freedom. To show you that your ways are not my ways. That those who live by the sword will die by the sword. But those who turn their swords into plowshares will be made new, will have all grapes and bread and trucks and living water that they need - not because I come to make everyone rich. This is no prosperity gospel. This is the good news of the end of violence. This is the good news of peace. The good news of grace. The good news of the end of always wanting what someone else has, because God’s grace is sufficient for all of us.

You are forgiven. Now be at peace. Be at peace with God, and with one another. You don’t have to strive for what others have, because my grace is for all, and my grace is sufficient. 

Thanks be to God.

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