A difficult text to preach: Ched Myers and the Parable of the Tenants

Pulling-my-hair-outIn all honesty, the text for this coming Sunday, Matthew 21:33-46, is quite a difficult one to preach. It is difficult for a number of reasons.

Two major challenges are evident. First, this text has been so spiritualized by an anti-Semitic church that it makes it hard for me to even read it without a deep sense of anger. For centuries–since before Augustine and especially John Chrysostom–church leaders have interpreted every negative character in Jesus’ parables as a reference to “the Jews.” This misreading of the text not only leads to the kind of ethnic and religious violence that caused the Pogroms, the Crusades, and the Holocaust. (I will talk more about this in my sermon post later this week.) But secondly, to make things worse, it removes the Church from any sense of complicity in the sins alluded to in the parable and pushes them off on others. In other words, this kind of Christian triumphalist interpretation–where the bad guys in the text always look like someone other than our own Church leaders–inhibits us from any kind of repentant response.

[Click here to read my post – “Faith and Fratricide”: A repentant response – from September 1, 2014]

And so, you have probably already figured out that I will not be preaching that the wicked tenants in this passage refers to “the Jews.” Instead, it will be an honest talk about Jesus’ vision for a new community, our desperate need to learn the practice of repentance, and a continuation of last week’s discussion about authority. So, the question remains: how can this text be preached in a way that recognizes the Church, at least sometimes, fits more with the wicked tenants than with the master’s servants? And what might the Church’s repentant response look like?

See, I told you it would be difficult…

For myself, for my congregation, and for everyone else who might be preparing to preach this text this Sunday, here are a few videos of a teaching from Ched Myers. While he only briefly mentions the history of poor interpretations and misreadings, I thought that this might help us get a bit more prepared to learn from this difficult text.

Ched Myers, Parable of the Tenants (1 of 6)

Ched Myers, Parable of the Tenants (2 of 6)

Ched Myers, Parable of the Tenants (3 of 6)

Ched Myers, Parable of the Tenants (4 of 6)

Ched Myers, Parable of the Tenants (5 of 6)

Ched Myers, Parable of the Tenants (6 of 6)

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jeff Conlon says:

    Incredible teaching. Powerful stuff. This is the Word come to life in our time. Whether we are talking about the Occupy Movement, the Climate rally, people in Hong Kong, or those fighting the pipelines of various sorts, the vineyard is talking back to the evil tenant farmers (who act like absentee landlords) and saying, “You don’t own this earth because you did not create it! God did.” God is at work amidst the madness of our world and these “Old Stories” are just as new today as they were back then.

    1. “God is at work amidst the madness.” Thanks for that word Jeff. Amen!

  2. ISTM that the story is a ‘gotcha.’ The religious leadership identifies totally with the absentee landlord in the midst of a sharecropper revolt – and then is flipped into the role of the rebellious sharecroppers who will be thrown out. Not an argument in favor of absentee landlords, but of rejecting those who identify with them. something like ‘illegals should be kicked out,’ becoming – and you are the invading ‘illegal’ for God’s kingdom?

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