4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.
37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He 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.”
42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore 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. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Ok, so let’s start with this story Jesus tells. What’s the problem in the story?
How does the owner of the vineyard try to resolve it? What might some other options have been for the owner?
What’s the outcome?
Now, Jesus doesn’t just tell this story at random. Matthew tells us that the chief priests and scribes figured out that Jesus told the parable about them. Let’s think that through.
If the parable is about the religious leaders, who are they in the parable?
What does the vineyard stand for?
Who is the landowner?
What does it mean that the religious leaders refused to give the vineyard’s produce to God? What would that produce be? What are they doing instead of giving it to God?
What servants does God send to convince the religious leaders to share their bounty?
How do the leaders treat those messengers?
Why do the leaders kill the son? What are they trying to accomplish? How do you think that’s going to work for them?
What might it mean in this context for God to give the vineyard to others?
This gives us one great image of the church. In fact, several great biblical images for Israel work really well for the church. It’s important for us to remember that we in the church join God’s story; we don’t replace Israel. God and Israel have an ongoing story that is in conversation with our story. The stories are related, but not identical: we can’t live Israel’s story and neither can they live ours.
So the vineyard is one great image of the church from the Bible. What would stewardship look like in that image?
There are many images of the church in scripture and others we can come up with on our own. Each image focuses on some aspects of the church and may leave out others. Even though we all might have images that speak to us more than others, it’s important to know that no one image tells the whole story, so we can learn from each other.
What are some other images that help you think about what the church is? In other words, what pictures help you think about what the church means to you? Say a little more about how that image speaks to you?
What might stewardship look like in that image of the church?
We have a bunch of different images of the church partly to remind us that the church serves many roles. It’s bigger than we are; more diverse than we imagine. On top of those images, the church is simply the collection of all those who want to follow Jesus. It is the family, community and body that makes Christ’s love real for us.
Paul makes that relationship clear with a sense of stewardship that humbles me: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. … 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made [the resurrection] my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
In the end stewardship and faith are not about us, but about Jesus. Jesus claims us in love, setting us free from the law and free from the sin that holds us captive. In the light of Christ’s love everything else takes second place. The way people have hurt us in the past, the things we’ve done wrong, the things we’ve done right that make us feel good and tempt us to look down on others: all this fades into the background.
For Paul, who grew up with strict legal righteousness, trusting in his efforts to be holy, that holiness doesn’t matter anymore. His own righteousness, his years of obedience to scripture and training are like trash to him. All that matters is that Christ calls him onward in ministry, giving him new life and making him holy by faith.
I can’t own Paul’s devotion yet; I am not as committed to Jesus and the church as Paul was, and many things other than new life in Christ attract me. Still, I can relate to his hope for how God will continue to work in my life and in our life together. We haven’t made God’s promise of new life fully our own, but we are following God’s calling into the future. We consider our stewardship in the light of that calling. This next year will bring us closer to who God wants us to be as we grow in faith. Are you ready for the transformation God wants to bring about in our life? How will you invest in that transformation?
Thanks be to God.