02 October 2011

"Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom." (v. 43)


Today's reading is an allegorical passage with a plain meaning that is not at all obscure.

The vineyard represents Israel (a common biblical image) and God is the landowner. God sends prophet after prophet to the people of Israel and all of them are treated badly. Finally, God sends his only son and that son is murdered. Jesus asks the religious leaders to speculate what sentence the servants will be given for killing the landowner's son. They reply that God will "put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time" (v. 41).

Mark also narrates this same parable in his Gospel (Mark 12:1-12), but today's passage from Matthew includes an idea that Mark's account does not, that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom". This is not just a fluke because Matthew has several references to 'fruits' in the original Greek text that all build toward verse 43. So what are we to make of this idea and how do we use this text?

At all costs, we must not employ this text in an anti-Semitic way. The sins of the servants and their leaders in this story apply equally to all of us because we share in the same human nature that rejects God's prophets and God's commandments.

So what's Matthew's concern with the fruits of the kingdom? I think that there is a hint in his previous story, the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). The son who does his father's will despite refusing to do it is on his way to God's kingdom whereas the son who does not do his father's will, despite agreeing, is disinherited.

Not only do actions speak louder than words, they also bear testimony to what we genuinely believe. When our mouths say one thing and our actions say another, we are not bearing the fruit of our faith; in a very real way, we are captive to sin.

To Ponder

What do you think a fruitful life of faith would look like in your current life context?

If we are saved through the grace of God, why do you think we need to be concerned about the fruits that our faith produces?

Think of a time when someone's actions were inconsistent with their words; how did it make you feel about what they claimed to believe?

Bible notes author: The Revd Pam Garrud

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