It is a sad fact that we live in a violent world.
As Christians we are called to consider how we should react to the violence that surrounds us?
Almost two years ago I was privileged to be able to go on the Diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
On that pilgrimage we stood in places where we know Our Lord stood two thousand years ago, and yet we could not fail to notice the atmosphere of caution, suspicion and violence that filled the air we were breathing.
Just twenty years ago the world entered a new millennium in a spirit of optimism and joy.
But look at what has happened since … 9/11, 7/7, the Manchester Arena, London Bridge … so many acts of violence.
And what makes that violence especially sad, is that it is often carried out in the name of religious belief … despite there being no mainstream religion in this world that espouses the use of such violence.
In the parable of Jesus that we heard in today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus drawing on the imagery provided in our Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah.
In both Isaiah and Matthew, God the Father is portrayed as a landowner who sets up a vineyard.
We hear of God generously supplying all that is necessary for that vineyard to produce a good harvest.
But … in both passages … something goes terribly wrong.
In our reading from Isaiah God looks for a harvest of justice and righteousness … instead he finds a harvest of bloodshed and outcries of suffering.
As the text says: the harvest is one of wild grapes!!
In Jesus’ parable, the landowner’s messengers are violently mistreated and killed.
Even when the landowner sends his own Son to collect the harvest … the Son is also killed.
Within the context of Matthew’s Gospel, this parable is, obviously, a prophetic statement about what is going to happen to Jesus himself … and very soon!
God sent his prophets to his people, but the people rejected and killed them.
Then God sent his Son to the world, but … on the cross … the Son will be killed … Jesus himself will be the victim of violence!
Today we hear Jesus telling a parable in which violence seems to have the last word.
But then, Jesus asks a demanding question …
What will the owner of the vineyard do to the wicked tenants who killed his servants and his son?
That is: what will God do in response to such violence?
If you were listening carefully to the Gospel reading you will have noticed at this point that it is the people who suggest that the owner will kill all those violent people … not Jesus!
Jesus’ response is very different …
he doesn’t suggest killing, rather he quotes Psalm 118 – the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
Jesus does not respond to violence with more violence … nor even the threat of violence.
Jesus’ response is to do God’s will … even if that demands heroic humility; a flood of forgiveness; a trust that God is more powerful than death.
This parable is told after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, i.e. Palm Sunday … for Jesus a violent death is just a couple of days away.
The religious leaders are plotting Jesus’ violent death as he speaks.
Whilst journeying through these final days before his crucifixion, Jesus teaches the crowds in challenging parables … he tells the people the truths they do not want to hear … he warns them that their actions will have ramifications … God’s word is taught in its starkest and most challenging form.
Jesus’ response to violence is very different to our very human response of revenge.
Jesus responds to violence with concrete actions for justice (remember the overturning of the money changers’ tables!) … he responds with a message of divine welcome and healing … he responds with truth-telling and a call to honesty and integrity.
As we watch the news this week … for there will most certainly be scenes of violence there … let us reflect on the question: How would Jesus respond to all this violence?
Let us also remember our call to bring Jesus’ response into this world on his behalf … for it is through our hands, our feet, our minds, our hearts that he works today.