This week’s gospel reading from Matthew is confusing, as many of Jesus’ parables are. Jesus describes the landowner’s tenants as murderous and cruel, attempting to steal his son’s inheritance by killing him. He warns the people listening that they will lose the kingdom of God and it will be given to those who will produce fruit.
In reflecting on this gospel, I feel that I am being asked to reconsider easy definitions of who is holy and righteous. The verse after the reading cuts off in the lectionary tells us that when the chief priests and Pharisees heard Jesus tell this parable, they knew he was speaking about them. As public leaders of religious life and their communities, those charged with maintaining tradition and law, the priests and Pharisees were unnerved. Jesus was turning the notion of what it meant to be chosen by God on its head. Jesus was asserting that laying claim to the land was not enough: to stay, you must tend it.
This passage, therefore, is a challenge to me. What fruit is my life producing? Going through the motions, following the law to the letter and denying the spirit of love will give me no claim to the kingdom. And those who give Him produce at the proper times may be those I least expect, or those who I am willing to write off. Picture my friend, I’ll call her Red, a self-described libertine and hedonist who smokes hand rolled cigarettes and was last in church at my wedding over a year ago. Red and I met the first day of our first year of college, and have been close ever since. Red is the person I call when I am in crisis, has opened her home to me, drove me back and forth from college to home for three years and never once asked for gas money. She loves justice and lives compassionately. She produces the fruit at the proper times.
Traditional notions of piety are no longer enough for me. They can be comforting, but Jesus’ call is clear – bear fruit, or lose your inheritance. While this may seem counter to our belief that God’s love is a free gift to all, by refusing to bear fruit, we are refusing God’s our ability to conduits of grace to those we encounter.
Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and theology school dropout living in Wisconsin with her spouse, Evan Creed. Her favorite things about fall in the Midwest are the sound of geese and the smell of leaves.