St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 24th September 2020
Led by Rev Professor Kenneth M Boyd
Welcome to online devotion with St Giles’ Cathedral today, Thursday the 24th of September 2020
Psalm 40 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
Scripture Mark 12: 1-12
Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally, he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
‘… they realised that he had told this parable against them’. For the writer of Mark’s Gospel, Israel in this parable is God’s vineyard, the tenants its religious leaders, the owner’s insulted slaves the Old Testament prophets, and his son whom the tenants killed, was Jesus; and Jesus was the cornerstone of the faith of those ‘others’ , increasingly non-Jewish Christians, to whom the vineyard was to be given after the old tenants were destroyed. Mark’s Gospel probably was written before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD: but many later Christians saw its destruction as God’s rejection of Judaism in favour of Christianity; and they often too readily assumed that tenancy of God’s vineyard was now rightfully theirs to do what they liked with, simply by virtue of being Christians rather than Jews. Great and genuine goodness, sanctity, civility, human-kindness, and good-neighbourliness was generated by Christian faith and civilization: but it was to have a dark shadow in European anti-Semitism and more generally in Western arrogance and exploitation of the rest of the world’s vineyards. If, as it now increasingly seems, the threat of global warming, and even the present global pandemic, have their roots in this arrogance and exploitation, in our lack of care for other creatures and for Creation, then perhaps it as much against us today as against the scribes and the Pharisees that the parable is told. But what, beyond the increasingly urgent warnings of environmental scientists, does the parable tell us?
Each parable of Jesus sheds light from a different angle on the mystery of faith. In Matthew’s Gospel (20:1-16), another owner of a vineyard pays all his labourers, however long or short a time they have worked, the same amount, not because they deserve it, but because the owner is generous. If the character of the owner of the vineyard in each of these parables tells us something about God, then perhaps the ‘share of the produce of the vineyard’ for which the generous owner sends first his slaves and finally his son, is not a material but a spiritual share. What God waits for, in other words, is evidence that we have used our tenancy in the vineyard of this world, to learn what God intended when he let it to us, that we should learn to become generous as God’s own self is generous.
The exploitation of Creation’s vineyard whose consequences threaten us today, have their root in an all-too-human and fear-driven desire to possess whatever offers some protection to individuals, classes or nations against the uncertainty of life: but because no amount of money, status or power can ever give total certainty of protection, this fear-driven desire is insatiable, and leads to all the inequalities and injustices which ultimately make life even more uncertain.
What these two parables tell us then, is that this vicious circle of insecurity leading to exploitation and then to even greater insecurity, can only be slowed and in the long run halted by learning to trust the invisible source of generosity, and in so doing learning to become more generous. How to translate such a humanly impossible ideal into practical politics will never be easy; and even in the small decisions of everyday life we will often fail and fail again to have the imagination and sympathy to be generous. Yet to have failed in trying to be generous is surely better than succeeding in any lesser ambition. And as another parable, that of the Prodigal Son assures us, the forgiveness we need to encourage us to go on trying, is there, endlessly at the heart of all things, the invisible source of all generosity. AMEN
Father, Lord of all creation, we praise you with all your creatures
and the whole universe that comes forth from the work of Your hands.
We acknowledge the privilege and responsibility
that You give us as stewards of Your creation.
In our ignorance we have done damage to our common home
and our brothers and sisters are suffering.
Through faithfully following your Son, guide and direct us to prepare for a better future.
Teach us to contemplate You in the beauty of the universe, for all things speak of You.
Give us the grace to recognise, respect and protect all You have created,
using wisely all that you have entrusted to us.
Holy Spirit, who first hovered over the dawn of creation and drew order out of the chaos
help us to build your kingdom of justice, love, peace and beauty where the poor of the earth are crying out.
You, who live and reign, world without end, Amen.
Dear Lord, teach me to be generous as you have been generous with me. Teach me that all I am and have are gifts from You. And gifts, Lord, are meant to be shared. Show me the joys of generosity. Help me to understand that others, perhaps unknown to me, depend on me for help, Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen
And now may the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
bless, preserve and keep us and all God’s children,
in the joy, simplicity, and compassion of the gospel. Amen
J.S.Bach Wir glauben all an einen Gott BWV 1098