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Lectionary reflections - Year A
Ordinary Time
Proper 22

Isaiah 5.1–7
Philippians 3.4b-14
Matthew 21.33–46

The people listening to the story of the vineyard would have responded to it on a number of different levels. Some of them would have recognized this vineyard from Isaiah 5 and begun to make the connections from the beginning. The context in which Matthew puts this interchange assumes that the chief priests and Pharisees are a large part of the audience, and they would certainly be expected to hear the literary echoes. So they know, as soon as the story starts, that this is about God and Israel. But they are listening for the refinements, for the differences from the original, to see in which direction Jesus is taking the story. And they quickly spot the major difference, which is that this is not about what the vineyard has done wrong, as it is in Isaiah, but about the tenants. So, they guess, this is not going to be a story about judgement on the whole of Israel, but only some categories of people within it.

Others in the audience are listening to it with less educational baggage. They just want to find out what’s happening in the actual story. To begin with, their sympathy is engaged with the landowner. They can imagine the hard, hot, back-breaking work that goes into clearing a piece of land and planting the vines. They can identify with the pleasure of the completed task. But then the landowner walks off, and the
audience’s sympathy begins to shift. All that work, and it turns out just to be a financial investment, they mutter. I wouldn’t mind having so many vineyards that I could afford to let them out, they joke. Jesus’ audience may not have been uniformly poverty-stricken, but the majority of them were probably more likely to have suffered from unpleasant landlords than unreliable tenants...

Taken from Lectionary reflections year A by Jane Williams - Published by SPCK

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