September 28, 2011

the produce?

When Jesus asks the Pharisees what the father would do to the evil tenants in his parable, they highlight something that is easily glossed over in this story, especially as it gets used in many pulpits as the basis for the first sermon in stewardship season.  Their response is as succinct as it is hard to hear, "The father will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to tenants who will give him his produce at the harvest time."

Did you catch it?  Here's a hint, look at the title of this post.  Riiiight, the produce.

The story starts, after the allusion to Isaiah 5, with the landowner sending his slaves "to collect his produce."  They didn't go to take his cut of the profits.  They didn't go to get the first fruits.  They didn't go for any partial payments.  They went to get the produce.

All of the produce.

Or at least that's how I read it (disagreeing with my recent favorite translation the NLT in doing so).  We did stewardship during the Great 50 Days of Easter, so our worship services in October are safe from the fall stewardship campaign, but lots and lots of preachers will use this text as a reminder to give God his due.  Then they'll say something like, "and the biblical model of giving is the tithe, 10%."  Which is well and good, and if everybody gave 10% the Church would not be in need, ministries to the poor and sick would be overflowing with cash, and natural disasters wouldn't require a $10 donation by text message, BUT the biblical model of giving is not 10%.  The biblical model of giving is the Father sending his slaves to collect his produce.

None of it is ours. It is all a gift from God who created the land, built the seasons, waters the plants, and gives breath to the workers.  Lopping 10% off the top is going about it the wrong way round, God gives us back 90%, which is more than we could ever need.  The evil tenants in Jesus' parable don't get it.  They think they've done all the work. They think they can rebel and take ownership of the vineyard.  They forget where it all came from.  And often times, so do we.  Offer the Lord his produce, and you'll be amazed at the results.

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