So, how are we doing taking care of that vineyard these days? Before we start casting shame and blame on the easy targets in this story and on those around us in our lives, we should take a long hard look at ourselves. Just how are we doing in our tending of the Kingdom of Heaven?
As preachers, this is our charge — to care for God’s vineyard, to care for God’s people. We are leasing the land. I wonder how often we forget whose care we are representing and administering. We are on lease from God to care for God’s people, to care for God’s creation, to care for the Kingdom of Heaven with the Beatitudes as our gardening tools.
One of the reasons for the telling of this parable is for us to recall and recommit to the fact that our leadership has to be markedly different from that which is witnessed on a regular basis; not just to set us apart or to set the church apart, but to show the world what true leadership looks like. To be an example to the world of leadership that seeks to care for the meek, that works for righteousness, that advocates for peace.
As far as I can tell, there is nothing to indicate that the disciples are not privy to this conversation between Jesus and the temple leadership. Yes, Jesus’ words are an indictment against leaders who can’t seem to care for their own, but the disciples also need to be reminded of what leadership looks like in the Kingdom of Heaven, especially now, the day after their arrival in Jerusalem. And we also need to be reminded of what leadership looks like in the Kingdom of Heaven — again and again — especially now when hypocrisy seems acceptable, even expectable, and justice for all really means justice for just a few.
There are plenty of leaders out there, church and state, who have forgotten that central to leadership is the faithful care of those under their charge. And of course, there are some who have not simply had a temporary lapse in memory — it is inherent in their DNA not to care. It is who they are and they should never be, never have been, granted leadership, and the power that comes with it, because they only know and exercise the kind of power that takes advantage of others, uses others, and is turned in on itself. I suspect none of us would need to look very far to find leaders who, without a blink of an eye, make a tee time instead of making sure that those for whom they are responsible have their basic needs met.
As leaders of churches we are also leaders of God’s church, which, for Matthew, is the Kingdom of Heaven church, the Church of the Beatitudes, if you will. Indeed, our charge is to care for God’s people entrusted to us. But it is also our charge to do what Jesus did, especially in this day and time — to call out leadership that hurts and harms. To call out leadership that is unjust. To uncover leadership that thinks only of itself. To expose leadership that let’s people under their charge die.
Jesus gets it. Jesus knows. It is far too easy and too common to allow complacency to replace resistance; safety and security to replace decency and goodness; and silence to replace prophecy.
And if it is also our charge to do what Jesus did, to name those unrighteous and impious leaders in our midst, then it is also our charge to empower our people to do the same. To support them when they look for ways to call attention to injustice and inequality. To uphold them in their acts of opposition. To come alongside them as they try to connect the ways of Jesus to the ways of their week. To welcome politics in the pulpit and in the pews, in our bible studies and around donuts and coffee, which is not the same as partisanship, dear preachers. We are charged with helping them make the connection that Jesus is trying to make — between faith and citizenship, between pistis and polis.
Caring for the Kingdom of Heaven is not only being good tenants, the kind of tenants that tenaciously tend the call to being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Caring for the Kingdom of Heaven is being tireless in our resistance to leadership that is not only unaware of Jesus’ Beatitudes, but actually works at undermining them. And, as preachers it is our charge to make sure that our disciples hear what Jesus’ disciples heard — to help them imagine that they are also leaders in the Kingdom of Heaven. That God needs them as tenants to exercise justice, to work for a world where the Beatitudes are not aspirational but actually possible and palpable.