How many of you are familiar with Albert Einstein’s definition of “insanity?” Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Our first dog helped us experience this. Every day when the postal carrier would come to deliver mail, the dog would go nuts, and bark her head off, and sounded like given the chance would have attacked the person just delivering messages through the mail slot. From the dog’s perspective she was a success- every day some stranger came and tried to put stuff in our door and she barked and the person left. That’s not insanity.
Insanity was what we did. Every day we would chastise the dog for that behavior and tell her not to do it. And it never changed. You’d think that since we provided her a safe and comfortable home and good food, and she always cornered the best spot in a nice fluffy bed. You would think that she’d listen. But every day, the postal carrier would appear, and the dog had the same response. Because to our dog, “This is MY HOUSE!” And she was in charge.
Our dog was not exhibiting insanity- we were. For thinking that on a different day or with a different person the result would be different. And we could have given up on the dog but we didn’t. Because we loved the dog. And thankfully she never “got” that person who came and shoved mail through the slot in our front door.
But insanity, that act of doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is perhaps the best way I know to describe what we see in the vineyard lessons today. Stories of wild grapes and tenants run amok, and the actions of the owner of the vineyard. (Thanks David Lose!)
The owner has labored to create a vineyard, tilling soil, planting lovingly, setting everything in order for the best and most abundantly possible harvest, and then gives the care of the vineyard over to other. In Isaiah we hear that it all goes wild from there and the temptation is tear it all down. But in the gospel, we hear about the tenants in a different way. And as far as we know in most respects they have been good tenants and have cared for the place. They’ve been given a place to live and a job to do- bring in the harvest. And presumably they’ve been given a promise that some of the harvest will be theirs as their pay, but of course the rest goes to the one who owned the land and who created the vineyard. And the harvest has come!
But now they look around and they see that harvest and they just don’t want to share. They’ve worked hard day after day for an owner who isn’t really around. They’ve put themselves into it and it doesn’t seem right that most of this goes to someone else.
So when the landowner sends servants to collect, they don’t receive grapes of joy in the harvest. Instead, to borrow the phrase from John Steinbeck, they meet with grapes of wrath. In wrath and anger those poor servants are abused or killed. Because the tenants have decided that this is MY PLACE!
Here’s where the insanity starts.
The owner could do as we would at this point, send in police or soldiers and take this by force. But instead, the owner sends more servants! Who sadly meet the same result. And that’s crazy! Why would the owner put so much at stake to risk a different result? More grapes of wrath. And frankly now the tenants are feeling the battle surge.
So then it really gets crazy, because the owner says, “I’ll send my son. They’ll listen to him. They’ll show respect, and recognize his authority, after all they have had a job and a place and are getting cared for.”
And we know how it ends. More wrath and killing.
The question isn’t really so much why did the tenants act that way- we sadly expect it. The stories in our world and our lives tell us this.
The question is, “why did the owner act that way??”
Why would anyone try to live in the framework of a relationship over and over when it is clear that it’s so one-sided?
That’s just crazy.
Today’s parable was told by Jesus to the leaders of the temple to show them who they were- those who rejected over and over the messengers of God. And while it’s a story about them and about how they would go on to reject even the Son, none of us should be under the impression we would be any different.
When so often we find in our own lives, ways we reject God’s call upon us to care for the vineyard, for those who show up in it, or to listen to God. When it is easy to respond to others not with love but with wrath. To call upon force rather than tend relationships.
Our news and our own stories tell us this is true. And in the end so much of what we’re given we are sure is OURS, because we’ve been tending it, we hardly think at all about who else might have a stake.
We can do a fine job of serving up grapes of wrath. That’s not the gospel.
Sometimes we have to work harder to see what the good news is.
The bigger and more important part of the parable however is what we know of God. It’s the story of one who lovingly arranged a place for us to live and to work and to grow, and who despite all our rejections and possessiveness, and even our violence and spite, continues to send not only messengers but to send the Son.
This side of the cross we know just how crazy this love God has for us really is. Christ on the cross is the ultimate message, that takes our wrath and made of it, our salvation.
If God responded towards any of us as we deserve, there would be wrath and destruction indeed. How unexpectedly graciously instead,
God persists over and over in a relationship with us, however one-sided, and while it is indeed the height of insanity, it is the best demonstration of crazy love we’ll ever see.
The grapes in the end are not grapes of wrath, they are grapes of mercy and forgiveness and love.
And this day again we will taste them. We’ll come because God invites us and we’ll receive the body and blood of Christ who died at our hand, but for us. So today, maybe, we’ll taste these grapes and maybe linger over it, and savor that taste that for us is the taste of love and mercy for each of us and for all of us.
And then maybe remember that of all the things we clamor to possess, or to know, the sweetest and best is God’s crazy love for us all.