9 He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!”
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
Luke 20: 9-18 (NIV)
(For use with the MORNING Daily Prayer)
The season of Advent offers a stark contrast to the constant commercialization of Christmas that barrages our senses and urges us to buy presents for friends and family. The demands of our consumeristic culture call for shopping orgies, festive celebrations of fancy food and drink, and lengthy wish lists of items that are supposed to increase our personal (and private) sense of happiness. To mark our lives with the lessons of Advent is to step outside the commodification of Christmas into a time of simplicity and waiting. Christian communities invite us to escape the noisy marketplace into the discipline of quiet contemplation about where and how we may encounter God’s presence in our lives. Even the simple task of reading Scripture during this Advent season requires us to pause and re-orient ourselves around the demands of the Gospel on our lives. To read this challenging parable from the Gospel of Luke during Advent season prompts us to ask a series of questions about our relationship to God, to our neighbors, and to the earth.
1) We start by acknowledging our place of privilege and responsibility. As those who have been entrusted with the gifts of this good earth, how do our practices demonstrate respect and care for the earth? In what ways do our Christmas preparations and celebrations serve the demands of the marketplace and in what ways do they promote a sustainable economy? Several years ago, our family decided to pare down our gift-giving. Each year, we send our extended families Christmas wishes along with a notice about a non-profit organization that we are supporting in their names. It is one small way that helps us turn our focus towards those who struggle for basic needs of food, housing, and health care.
2) Who is suffering around us? Who are those whom are enslaved and mistreated in order that our holiday festivities may demonstrate our desire for success and worth to others in places of power and privilege? This parable challenges us to turn our gaze away from the tinsel and bright lights towards those whom work in sweat factories and on industrial farms to produce cheap goods for our constant consumption. This parable calls our attention to welcome the stranger and work for the liberation of those whom we often ignore. To fail to pay attention to these signs is to risk missing the presence of Christ in the midst of those who suffer. To pause and listen during this season of Advent is to hear the cries of undocumented workers and all those who struggle for just pay and fair conditions. A friend of mine regularly volunteers to prepare, serve, and eat meals with day laborers who often are paid below minimum wage.
When we look more closely at this parable, then we realize that the story of Christ is wrapped around the stories of the abuse and maltreatment of those who live in the margins of society. This Advent, let us reflect on how our practices of hospitality make room for us to recognize God’s presence as we welcome strangers and outsiders into our communities.
The season of Advent comes as a gift to us that invites us to pause, reconsider our priorities, and adjust our practices in order to make room for the gift of the Christ child in our lives. When we learn to look for the beloved of God in the midst of suffering, then we find ourselves making different choices: to care for the earth and welcome strangers. These are the actions that allow us to heed the stern warning of this parable from Luke’s Gospel and build on the cornerstone of Christ’s presence in our lives. How will we respond to this call to change our lives during this season of Advent?
A Prayer for the Third Day of Advent
We give thanks, God, for your willingness to be present in the midst of suffering in our own lives and with those who live in the margins of society. During this season of Advent, help us to turn our attention away from the noisy marketplace of consumption to the gift of your presence in unexpected places so that we may welcome your beloved Son and build our lives on a solid foundation, through Christ we pray. Amen.
Professor of Theology