Year A, Pentecost, Proper 22
I am intrigued this week with the images running through the scriptures of all we inherit from God as human beings made in God’s image as well as being simply part of the interconnected flow of creation. The imagery reveals such rich treasure available to us, yet treasure that also makes demands on the way we live in God’s world. Exodus 20 gives those ancient and famous commandments that still guide us in creating fruitful and just community. Psalm 19 extols the cosmos that speaks without words of God’s glory in its daily order of day and night inviting us to deep meditation. The vivid sensory image of a grape vine and a vineyard, with its sights, textures, smells and tastes, connects Isaiah 5, Psalm 80 and Matthew 21 in a pointed parable that asks how we will accept and use the great inheritance of God’s treasures of life, wisdom and abundance. Will we live in this amazing cosmic treasure chest through the just use of the resources of creation and of God’s love? Or will we ignore the God’s ways in fearful greed, squandering and betraying our rich inheritance? Paul challenges us in his letter to the church at Philippi to “press on”, “strain forward” in following Christ Jesus. For it is Christ who models our inheritance of the counter-cultural/counter-empire (in the first and twenty-first centuries) ways of God – the ways built into flow and fabric of creation.
Matthew’s re-telling of Isaiah’s vineyard parable is tough to hear and does not seem to lend itself to a children’s time. Yet the questions posed by the parable are timely as we seek to live in and to proclaim the Kingdom of God in violent and greedy times. Daily the media brings us images of the powerful slaying – literally and figuratively – the less powerful in war, in unjust economic and political policies, in the widening gap between very rich and barely making it poor. Children understand and also experience the disparity between fair and unfair. They know the power of a bully who seeks to control those in his/her way. How can we talk with them as well as with the adults about the importance imagery of mis-using our rich divine inheritance?
There is a story that comes from the Sufi tradition of Iraq with imagery that can help. It echoes the Isaiah/Matthew parable in its narrative of a just landowner with lazy children who will be apt to squander and fight over the family’s treasure after his death. I found two sources for the story. The first is in Elisa Davy Pearmain’s Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World. (This is book is a favorite source of mine and I highly recommend finding a copy! Click on the title and it will take you to Amazon.)
The second source is through my storytelling mentor, Dr. Robert Bela Wilhelm. Bob is the premier master sacred storyteller and I invite you to learn from him as I have. He has a variety of books on iBooks of stories for each lectionary cycle and stories of a variety of traditions. He delivers them online orally so that you can be the story listener before becoming the storyteller. This week’s story, “Hazan of Basra”,[i] is a telling of the tale I first found in Pearmain’s book. You can find the story told by Bob on his Sacred Storytelling[ii] website page for Lectionary Year A.
Blessings on your story journey,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2014; To be reprinted only with permission.