Making Sense of the Chaos

(Last Updated On: October 7, 2023)

“Hear another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.”
(Matthew 21:33)

Thus begins the ‘Parable of the Vineyard’ – quite honestly, my favourite parable, though it’s not a heart-warming story. Things looks promising at the outset. A landowner heads off on vacation and leases out his vineyard to a group who might have taken good care of it. They don’t. On the contrary, under the management of the tenant farmers, the vineyard goes to seed. The focus of the story though is not so much on their mismanagement of the property as it is on their callous disregard for the rights of its legal owner.

When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.” (Matthew 21:34-36)

When I think of these servants who are abused by the tenant farmers, my mind turns to our brother, Julian Assange. Of course, he’s not the only servant ‘the landowner’ has sent to call those in power to account. Julian is one of a long line of prophets who have spoken truth to power. They all pay the price. As Jesus says, “You kill the prophets. You stone to death those that God has sent to you” (Matthew 23:37).

Why is it always this way? Why is the behaviour of the powerful always so vicious? Even if the tenant farmers in the parable couldn’t come up with the rent, why act with such disregard for the law or for their relationship with the landlord? Have they forgotten that they have a landlord?

Violence so often makes no sense. In theory, I accept that the concept of a just war yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. When I think of all the wars I have seen – from Vietnam to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and so on – have any of them been necessary? Have any of them achieved anything constructive?

The violence in the parable comes to a climax when the landowner decides to send his son to the vineyard. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.” (Matthew 21:37)

What made the landowner think that these people would respect his son?’ Given their behaviour up to this point, why would they suddenly start behaving rationally when the son turned up on the scene? Indeed, the only thing that makes less sense in this story than the violence of the tenant farmers is the persistent optimism of the landlord. He keeps on sending his messengers and servants, somehow believing that the situation will improve. The penny never seems to drop!

“When the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So, they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” (Matthew 21:33-39)

Jesus ends his story with a question: Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (Matthew 21:40).

It may be intended as a rhetorical question but my initial response is, ‘I don’t know. Has he got another son?’ We could have told the Master what would happen. These people were never going to respect him. Why did he give them another chance? What sort of set-up is this? What sort of people are these tenants? What sort of master is this?

And so, the story ends with nothing resolved. The master has no rent, no servants, no vineyard and now … no son! The evil tenants are alive and well and still appear to be running the show. The violence continues with no sign of resolution. ‘He who has ears, let him hear!’

As I say, this is my favourite parable, but not because it’s heart-warming. It’s a horrible story but, unless I’m very much mistaken, this is our story!

Of course, the people Jesus was initially targeting with this parable were the leaders of his own community. Even so, not much has changed. The history of first century Judea mirrors the broader history of our world where, as Lord Acton put it, ‘all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

Yes, the hope for a final reckoning is there at the end of the story, and yet our reality continues to be exactly as Jesus depicts it – the servants have been rejected, the Son has been killed, and the ownership of the vineyard seems to be very much in doubt. The tenants, meanwhile, run wild in their violence and stupidity!

Is there any Good News in this story? The good news I see here is less in the hope of a final reckoning for the tenant farmers than it is in the character of the master.

The master is hard to understand. He seems far too indiscriminate with whom he lets take charge of his vineyard, and he seems far too tolerant. Even so, there are two things that come through very clearly in this story. Firstly, this master will not give up on his vineyard, despite the fact that it seems to be a lost cause, and, secondly, he is committed to doing whatever it takes to regain control. No price is too great!

Hear the parable of the vineyard. It’s the parable we live out every day as we try to make sense of our chaos, endure the violence, and await the return of the master. The master has not given up on us! You who have ears, hear!

Our Sunday Eucharist

I was absent again for our Sunday Eucharist last weekend but our team did a great job. Indeed, with one more week to go with me in the UK, I’m wondering if they’ll want me back!😉

There was a solid 40+ minutes of Bible Banter last Sunday, including more than thirteen minutes from Stephen Sizer and myself, sharing our thoughts on Paul’s letter to the Philippians from a pub in Southampton. With this in mind, I didn’t include much of the introductory chat in the video, excepting a story from Father Mark about the treatment he received from one particular employer. I thought it might serve as an encouragement to all of us who have lost jobs. It encouraged me, anyway.😊

This Sunday Father Mark and Rob are back, and we’re hoping to have Joel Jammal join us with a pre-recorded commentary on the Epistle. Tune in from around 11.45 am this Sunday via or via Facebook , YouTubeTwitter or LinkedIn. or Streamyard.

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What’s On?

Another big thank you to everyone who has been keeping the wheels turning while I’m away. Mark and Rob have done a brilliant job with the Sunday Eucharist. Bobby Habib has been a Godsend to the Boxing Academy, and Binacrombi has been moving forward, providing light and life to great numbers of people, thanks to the leadership of Peter, Pauline, and Amanda. Then there are all of you who sponsor the work and keep us afloat financially. Thank you. I feel very blessed to be part of such a wonderful team.

My sojourn in the UK is nearing its close. We’ve had a wonderful and busy week – the highlight being the ordination of Joy’s old friend, Leigh, last Saturday. I’ve included some pics below. I know when I shared these pics on Facebook, some people were surprised to see all the female priests. Leigh was indeed ordained by a female bishop. It’s quite the norm in Britain as it is in most of the Anglican world.

Again, I’ve been judicious in sharing a limited number of pics. If you’re interested in seeing more of my snaps, check out my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

In terms of publishing, I’ve posted my chat with Stephen Sizer where we discuss Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter two, complete with transcript. It’s on the Fighting Fathers Blog. Click here.

Finally, keep praying that I might yet get to see Julian. I’m due to speak to the senior chaplain at Belmarsh Prison on Sunday. God’s will be done.

May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

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