Readings for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 21:33-46; Philippians 3:4b-14; Isaiah 5:1-7
There was a burglary reported a few months ago at a church where my friend serves as pastor. The thieves didn’t find much of value besides a few dollars worth of Sunday School offerings. Still, the members of that congregation were understandably shocked that someone would be so shameless as to steal from God!
The tenants in Jesus’ parable were stealing from the Master of the vineyard by claiming the fruit of His vineyard as if it belonged to them instead. They even went so far as to kill the Master’s Son! (Matt 21).
Are we ever guilty of stealing from God? We rob Him of His glory when we boast about the good works we do, even though such good works are only possible by God’s power and direction. We steal from Him when we treat the good gifts of Creation (land, home, family, etc.) as if they belonged to us, when in reality we are just their temporary stewards.
The apostle Paul didn’t discover until later in life “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” All the accolades and praises he’d accumulated from his youth were utterly worthless in comparison to this priceless treasure, that “Christ has made me his own” (Phil 3). Why steal from God when He has already given us everything we need in Christ?
The Old Testament lesson employs the same vineyard imagery, but with slightly different meaning. Here it isn’t the tenants who are a problem. The problem lies with the fruit itself – wild grapes which are not worth eating. The LORD warns of judgment on those who reject His grace, whose lives produce the bad fruit of injustice and unrighteousness (Is 5).