In the Lectionary

Sunday, October 5, 2014: Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:33­-46

Economists warn us with increasing urgency about the sharply widening income gaps that mark the American economy, about the disappearance of the middle class and the end of the social contract. The usual effects of income inequality are in evidence: stock market growth without similar gains in jobs or job security, financial speculation and bubbles, growing political corruption. Such things typically lead to class alienation, to wagons circling around ideological and religious legitimations, and eventually to violence.

These are the ways of human empires, whether ancient or modern. But how do you help people see what is happening around them and to them—to connect the dots, nurture hope, and encourage alternative practices? Narratives that help people see their world more clearly are crucial tools in shaping anti-imperial vision and resilience.

Jesus’ parable of the so-called wicked tenant farmers is a textbook illustration—a parody, even—of the economic and political dynamics of empire. But the parable has usually been interpreted as a religious allegory culminating in God’s judgment on Israel for killing God’s son and the subsequent replacement of Israel by more suitable tenants, that is, the (gentile) church. We should be wary of the self-serving and anti-Semitic aspects of this Christian interpretation. Allegorical readings tend to obscure, if not supplant, the dynamics of the story itself.