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This lectionary covers the next thirty days. For full lists, see the seasons and years below.
Sunday, September 24, 2023
As in so many of Jesus’ parables, there is a macro and a micro level. On the broader view, we see him addressing Jewish superciliousness over Gentiles who would seek God. Because they do not receive with joy, the latecomers end up getting their wage ahead of them (cf. Matt. 21:31). Like the elder brother in Luke 15, those who grumble betray their unappreciation of God’s generosity and are disrespectful of his will. They reveal that their enjoyment of their wage comes from their status relative to others, not the gift itself. In the same way, individuals who look sideways at latecomers and converts reveal that their religion is of an entirely human cast. Yet God’s choice is to grant the same wage. As the owner of the vineyard and the money, he can do what he likes with it, and demanding his salvation be distributed on a graduated scale is to devalue the gift.
Sunday, October 1, 2023
The two Gospel episodes are distinct sections connected by their reference to the authority of John the Baptist.
In the first, Jesus successfully traps the temple priests in the same sort of double-bind that they unsuccessfully attempted to trap him. They reveal that they cannot recognize the commission of God when its marks are before their eyes: the “way of uprightness” (v. 32) and Jesus’ miracles and works of healing (see John chs. 5-10).
In the parable of the two sons, Jesus makes plain that his standard for inclusion in the Kingdom of God is not an outward show of godliness but the capacity to recognize the voice of the Lord and obey it.
Sunday, October 8, 2023
The remarkable thing about the wicked tenants is how dim they are. To think that killing the heir of the landowner would result in them seizing the vineyard is fantasy. But such as it is to scheme against the living God.
Jesus, aware of the plots of the Temple officials, warns them that their plan will not succeed, and that their status as God’s people will pass to outsiders. Although they get the message, they go on plotting anyway, sealing their own destruction.
The preacher may use this parable to point out how, in the present day, our own petty attempts at wresting control of our own lives and churches, our “vineyards,” away from God’s control can only meet with the same disaster. By tolerating sin, we crucify Christ all over again and forfeit our status as trusted partners in God’s work on earth. Being the masters of our own vineyards and attempting to kick God out of them is a boneheaded plan, destined for failure.
Sunday, October 15, 2023
The parable of the wedding feast shifts the focus from the Jews who reject God to those who accept him under false pretenses. The one who not only accepts Christ’s free gift of grace but clothes himself in his righteousness will be saved (cf. 7:21) Works of mercy are not ours alone but are empowered by the Holy Spirit. The guest does not earn his garment, but rather is “chosen” (cf. Eph. 2:10).
The thing to emphasize is how, although it may feel like effort, our good works flow from our participation in Christ, rather than our best efforts alone. The result of the invitation is a changed life and a new identity, which may set us apart on earth, but is the ordinary dress of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Sunday, October 22, 2023
Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees on paying taxes continues to befuddle and elude both modern activists and patriots. Jesus did indeed endorse dutiful paying of taxes, and therefore offering some level of submission and legitimacy to the ruling authorities. That this is what Jesus meant by “render unto Caesar” is confirmed by the fact that Christians in the Early Church were noted for voluntarily and honestly paying their taxes, an anomaly in a world that all but expected graft and corruption.
However, by “rendering unto God” Jesus subtly and inescapably prohibits the sort of jingoism that would subordinate the believer’s citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven to that of the City of Man. In “rendering unto God the things that are God’s” the Lord makes an implicit analogy between the coin made in Caesar’s image, and the human being made in God’s image. Therefore, the whole body belongs to God, and indeed this explains why Christians, though dutiful taxpayers, also went to the gallows just as dutifully when they refused to conform to the Empire’s unjust and impious laws.
As of this writing, the American church is in a state of political panic. On the one hand, many are certain that “Christian Nationalism” has overtaken American religious sensibilities and made them subordinate to the state. On the other hand, others are just as certain that the spiritual truths of the gospel have been traded for a tradition of cheap activism, no less captive to political interests.
The Lord focuses us on the true north in between these false paths. Recognizing ruling authorities and obeying them as far as is lawful while reserving ownership of the self for God alone is the real attitude Christians are to have for human authorities. Ultimately, no matter how fond we may feel for our nations and communities, we are after all created in God’s image, not man’s, and our real task is to offer ourselves to him, and not to men.