The gospel lesson yesterday was the parable which Eugene Peterson titles, “the Story of the Greedy Farmhands”. It is one of Jesus’ stories which includes torture and death to make his point. It is clear what Jesus was trying to tell the faith leaders of his day when he told this story in response to persistent questioning.
The first time I read through the text, I found myself reading from the point of view of the servants (stewards of an unexpected gift). The more I read the more I realized that the story is comforting to the people of God who can imagine themselves to be the resource represented by the vineyard. This is a bit like looking at the image above. Do you see a fashionable young woman or an older woman wrapped in a babushka?
It is easy to catch that first glimpse and stay with that image. It is easy to read a scripture and be challenged or comforted and stay in that place.
As usual this “Story of the Greedy Farmhands” challenges us to consider both perspectives.
As we continue to process the events of October 1st in Las Vegas and any number of events over the past year we can see instances of human beings tempted the way we read about Adam and Eve to desire to act like God. One individual acting to make decisions about life and death. National leaders unilaterally making decisions without collegial conversation or community input. Or faith group leaders making decisions about inclusion or exclusion from worship or faith practice. The Greedy Farmhands did not fare so well when they succumbed to self interest.
On the other hand – how are we feeding, encouraging, supporting human beings who are God’s creation? Are we stingy about the resources God has provided for us? Or are we learning by caring and giving away. I heard a story this week about a food pantry where those being served have learned how to help with shelf stocking and distribution in order to share their talents. Not normally in worship on Sunday, but giving of themselves when given a chance by a community of faith. Or another faith community which has had a food pantry for over ten years. In conversation with those visiting their food pantry this group discovered a place where resources could intersect for God’s purpose. These conversations led to a realization that an alternative to yard sales could benefit those in need and the faith community. A thrift shop was opened where goods and clothing could be donated and shared with those in need. Were you impressed at the Presbytery Gathering last month? “Zero Waste” is a community practice in Scarsdale which it’s organizers are willing to share. Just the opposite of being Greedy Farmhands! And what are our efforts to assist faith communities which have been devastated by the recent hurricanes (Houston, Puerto Rico, and the Southeast)?
Push yourself to look at the picture/situation from the less obvious side. If you see the young woman first –push to see and study the older woman. If you identify with the vineyard in the parable, push yourself to recognize the moments when greedy thinking enters your mind and practice. Peterson translates Matt 21:43: If you are the greedy servants “God kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life.”
How do we encourage/build “kingdom life” where greedy thinking is prevalent and our faith community voices are not heard or respected?
Peter Surgenor is the former Executive Director of Holmes Camp and Conference Center.