XI Pentecost, Year C
Is 5:1-7 or * Jer 23:23-29
Ps 80:1-2,8-19 * Ps 82
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
* (Jeremiah 23:23-29)
Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back–those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
No doubt there are some who will positively gloat over today’s text. They will see this text as a challenge to what we have been saying these past years on PreachingPeace.org. They will say, “You see, Jesus does preach judgement.” And we will agree. Yes, he does.
There are those who come to a text like this and argue that Jesus has ‘zealot-like’ tendencies. This has two forms. The first can be seen in historical Jesus studies, e.g., that of S.G.F. Brandon (Jesus and the Zealots). Brandon’s thesis has been both criticized and modified. There are still scholars who perceive Jesus to be little more than a modern day revolutionary who authorizes violence. We (among others) sense that this interpretation misses the mark. It is certainly inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching on non-violence (unless we relegate that teaching to early Christian redaction).
Then there are contemporary Christian ‘zealots’ who seek to justify their own violence and complicity in violence by appealing to this text. In popular form, this text will often be preached on as part of the doctrine of ‘the Rapture.’ Have you ever noticed the similarity between the ‘zealot’ Jesus of certain scholars and the ‘zealot’ Jesus of the fundamentalists? (One sees Jesus’ revolution only in terms of violence because it cannot see His divinity, the other sees Jesus’ revolution as violent because they have projected human violence onto God and Jesus becomes the agent of that violence.)
In the doctrine of the Rapture, Jesus is coming again to separate the good from the bad and will send the bad straight to hell where they shall suffer some eternal torture that will make Abu Ghraib seem like a Cancun vacation. Notice, of course, that adherents of this belief find themselves in heavenly bliss, sipping pina colada’s. We wonder at the similarity to the promise of virgins by the distorters of Islam to the dead warriors of the jihad. (We recommend two critiques of this Rapture stuff. Jeff’s ‘No Rapture’ sermon and George Eldon Ladd’s The Blessed Hope).
If we cannot seem to make the leap from this text to ‘zealotism’ in any of its forms, then what is Jesus saying?
It’s quite beautiful really. It says Jesus does not come to bring peace but to bring division. If with mimetic theory we postulate our interconnectedness (we imitate each other’s desires), and we have seen that this human interconnectedness we have is all wrong, then we can take about the problem of human enmeshment. Bringing division is to bring difference, truly differentiated difference into the undifferentiation of the human family.
Jesus specifically calls attention to the doubling that occurs within family systems. And he is saying that his influence will break down the scapegoat mechanism. The two against three suggests that the all against one model, the creation of scapegoats on a family level, is broken.
Another indicator that we are dealing with the victimage mechanism is Jesus’ rejection of the warrior model, the one who brings peace through strength. One of the byproducts of the process of victimage is peace (order). It is peace as the world gives. Jesus avers that his mission is division, getting people to take sides, and in so doing, break the all against one model. At some point humanity has to wake up and begin to see that since Jesus, this model hasn’t worked. At some point we are going to have to acknowledge ourselves as mimetic creatures, filled with the desires given to us by those around us. And the fact is we still use human scapegoats to fill the void created by our mimetic rivalries. Jesus will have none of this.
Jesus uses nature analogues to frame his key question and it is a hermeneutical question. “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” Straight out, Jesus is telling his audience that they have a skewed hermeneutic. They lacked the ability to ‘test’, ‘examine’, ‘interpret’, ‘discern’, ‘discover’, ‘approve’, ‘prove’, ‘demonstrate’ (all potential English translations). They needed a hermeneutic and one stood right in front of them.
No relevant issues strike us today. On the use and function of the judgement sayings see Raymund Schwager’s Jesus in the Drama of Salvation.
The Gospels seem to be in the process of showing us the ‘differentiation’ of Jesus from popular messianology. This challenges us as well, for most of our Christian messianologies have some sort of warrior-messiah in them. It may be buried deep but it is in there. If we are going to follow Jesus, the Son of the Father who sits at God’s right hand, who was crucified and raised from death, we must begin to see just how differently this mission of Jesus is perceived by Jesus and the early church that produced the Four Gospels.
Our mission is to follow Jesus. But is it Jesus we are following? Or do we follow Jesus without discerning who he is, who it is we are following? Do we hear Jesus when he calls us away from our sacrificial paradigms, when we are turned from our own violent god to the Lord and Giver of Life? Do we hear his gracious, invitational, loving voice? Or do we hear the voice of a stern judge, of a crippled conscience, of projected fears? Are we hearing Jesus?
Several times on Preaching Peace we have named this warrior messiah as anti-Christ. What we mean is that much popular (as well as academic and ecclesial) Christology has not yet discerned that Jesus rejects, entirely rejects, the implications of the warrior messiah for his mission. Jesus will not be Rambo. Jesus is not out to be a hero. He does not ride in to save the day like the gods of our own making, the gods rising from our sacrificial mythologies, the greek ‘god in a basket’ (deus ex machina). He will, however, end up being branded a common criminal and executed. He will lay down his life; he will surrender his entire existence into the hands of his abba.
On the other hand, as we preach this text, we may find ourselves called to “afflict the comfortable.” That is to say, some of us will be leaders of congregations that have already rejected the warrior-messiah model. The challenge of this text for us in that context is to remind them that the unity they perceive in themselves, if it is not a unity that truly recognizes difference and finds oneness is our common childhood before the Father rather than in sameness, it is a unity that Jesus intends to destroy.
It is a sad fact that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated moments in every week. Almost all Christians in the United States will drive past three or four churches to worship in one where we feel we’re among the “like minded” if not the “like skinned.” “High Church,” “Low Church,” “Full Gospel,” “Social Justice,” all of these become identity markers that help us define our sameness, our unity as a congregation.
All these “unities” are the kind of “undifferentiated” peace that Jesus comes to destroy. Thanks be to God.