I am sure that some of us have heard of the clergyman who lived in a town that was hit by a major flood. The water was a foot deep in his living room. Some parishioners in a boat rowed up to his door, asking them to join him. “No, go ahead,” he said. “I’ll be just fine. God is taking care of me.” So, they left.
Then the water rose to the second floor. Back came the anxious parishioners in the boat. And they asked him to join them. Again, he refused. By the time the boat came back once more, the house had been completely engulfed and the clergyman was standing on his chimney. “Father,” his parishioners called to him, “come with us!” You’ll drown!” “No” the priest replied. “I’ll be fine. The Lord will provide.” So, they left. And he drowned.
Later, in heaven, the priest angrily made an appointment with God. “Why did you do this to me?” the priest fumed. “I did what you said. I prayed. And you didn’t help me.” “Didn’t help you?” God answered in surprise. “What do you mean? I sent a boat around to get you three times!”
Perhaps the story is a little corny, but it does beg the question, how often do we pray that things will change, and yet bypass the possibilities of change that come our way? We are good at missing real opportunities. We establish in our own minds the ways that things should be. We are so busy in making it all happen accordingly that somehow when the opportunities for real growth, real movement come along, we can’t see them or hear them like the priest in the story.
We could read today’s gospel story in this light: the wicked tenants refuse to accept the signs of the landowner’s intention when they present themselves. However, we could also ask whether the parable we have heard is about the wicked tenants or whether, in fact, it is more about the foolish landowner? Isn’t rather strange that having sent three servants to collect what was rightly his, and then having sent a larger number to do the job only to find that they were treated the same way, that in the end the landowner wouldn’t send a whole army to collect what was his and to deal with those tenants? Instead, the landowner’s final recourse to deal with those tenants was to send his own son, seemingly alone and unarmed. It seems foolish. And it is. But then the parable is designed to illustrate to us that there is a foolishness in God’s ways.
It seems that when God wants to get serious with us – really serious – God appears in the humblest form. The more serious God becomes with us the humbler God is with us.
This is the strange paradox of the kingdom of God in our life: it always comes clothed in ordinariness and dressed in vulnerability. We are here, probably like the tenants expecting it to come in grand schemes in a form before which we would tremble. Instead, it comes rather in a way that we can easily scoff and dismiss, so ludicrous can it first seem to us. God has come to us as a baby, as one socially marginalised, as one hanging on a tree, as bread. None of these ways has the elements of a grand army, a mighty battalion. Like the landowner’s son in the parable all these ways are disarming in their simplicity.
As God becomes serious with each of us, how does God appear?
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