Seventeenth Sunday of Trinity


Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you: pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself, and so bring us at last to your heavenly city where we shall see you face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Gracious God, you call us to fullness of life: deliver us from unbelief and banish our anxieties with the liberating love of Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.’

Exodus 20:1–4, 7–9, 12–20


1  The heavens are telling the glory of God •

   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2  One day pours out its song to another •

   and one night unfolds knowledge to another.

3  They have neither speech nor language •

   and their voices are not heard,

4  Yet their sound has gone out into all lands •

   and their words to the ends of the world.

5  In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, •

   that comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber

      and rejoices as a champion to run his course.

6  It goes forth from the end of the heavens

      and runs to the very end again, •

   and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

7  The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; •

   the testimony of the Lord is sure

      and gives wisdom to the simple.

8  The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; •

   the commandment of the Lord is pure

      and gives light to the eyes.

9  The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; •

   the judgements of the Lord are true

      and righteous altogether.

10  More to be desired are they than gold,

      more than much fine gold, •

   sweeter also than honey,

      dripping from the honeycomb.

11  By them also is your servant taught •

   and in keeping them there is great reward.

12  Who can tell how often they offend? •

   O cleanse me from my secret faults!

13  Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins

      lest they get dominion over me; •

   so shall I be undefiled,

      and innocent of great offence.

14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

      be acceptable in your sight, •

   O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Psalm 19


If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:4–14


‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

“The stone that the builders rejected

   has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

   and it is amazing in our eyes”?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Matthew 21:33–46

Sermon on Seventeenth Sunday of Trinity

The parables are at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Everyone acknowledges this fact – but just what he means by each of the parables has always been, and will continue to be, debated. I think we should join the lively conversations about the parables today.

“When the chief priests and the pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.” Self-realisation is a mark of an enlightened soul – in other words, I understand myself better inside the fold than when I was without religion. The parable Jesus told about, and to, the chief priests and the pharisees has had what I think was the intended consequence, to bring them up sharp and realise just who they were and what they were doing in their everyday life.

Jesus is not just speaking to the chief priest and the pharisees, is he? We read this ancient book because it is part of our tradition and because we believe the bible should speak to us today. Can we understand today’s parable in terms of our lives here and now, in this modern age?

Let’s review the story in different terms – The owner of a factory (the wine press) set up a holding company to run it. The holding company employees got greedy and were keeping all the profits for themselves refusing to send the franchise fee to head office. They first of all just refused to speak to the representatives from the owner. Then they got aggressive and sent them packing with a flea in their ear and a boot helped them on their way back to head office. The owner then sent his successor, the first vice president of the company to extract the money. That did not go well at all. The people at the factory took “mafia”-like council and their deeds became bloody. (That is what the television shows us all the time, doesn’t it? But that should be fiction, not fact.) They killed the man whom the owner loved like a son and had sent as an ultimatum to the holding company operating the wine press.

What will happen now, when the owner herself comes to collect? The owner will have police and lawyers with her and the interpretation of the legal agreement will be on her side. What do you think the weight of the law and the rage of the owner will exact from these rogues – these people who have broken the trust within the franchise agreement.

I would say – exactly what you would want in his situation. But what is it that we should wish to happen? We heard the other week about Jesus’ strange view of a wage structure. What do you think he wants in this business model? What will he exact from the holding company?

Do you think they will be enlightened? Do you think they will forsake their greed and give over what is rightfully the owner’s? That is what we hope will happen when they listen to this telling of their story, but somehow we doubt that will be the case.

Jesus is trying to shake people out of the forgetfulness in which the everyday, the ordinary, enfolds them. He is telling the story to the chief priests and pharisees because they have behaved like the holding company, and they may not even realise it. They have not respected any representatives from head office, even the man who was to have worn the mantle of power in the place of the owner in future.

What is this factory of the parable? In Jesus’ time, it was the religion of the Jews. It was held tight by these authorities in a very controlling way. Jesus was talking about the prophets representing the owner and himself as the heir to the winepress. What about today? Can we apply this parable to ourselves? Mutatis mutandis as the philosopher would say – with the necessary changes we can do so today.

Let us use language consistent with our retelling of the story. We need to look at a different “economic” model. The holding company is greedy, in other words they want to control everything, even though the factory was never their own – in a sense, they had inherited it from the owner. They were merely temporary custodians who were charged with keeping it in good order and running for the sake of the owner and the customers.. However, we don’t know who this owner is, and neither did the members of that holding company. They took on the wrong person didn’t they, when they wanted to keep everything for themselves? In their arrogance they thought themselves safe by ridding the world of the successor. But the world is not better off, everyone is exploited in this story. – However such an attitude is unsustainable in the world – not least because ‘all the best laid plans come aglee’ at some point. Who benefits from the holding company’s keeping everything to itself? Only the greedy few – and we know that that is not the generosity of the economics at the heart of the kingdom of God.

Jesus speaks in parables. Parabolic speech is not how people normally talk, is it? Rather it is the language of the poets with all their imagery, allegory, metaphor, simile and symbol. This parable is about all sorts of things: greed, respect, ill will, to name a few, but a parable does act as symbols do – opening the whole of life to inspection. That is why my thoughts have been scattered this morning ranging from the banal to more political and economic.

A parable causes us to think of all sorts of things, to associate so much of our lives in our retelling of the story. Jesus explicitly tells us that these parables have to do with the Kingdom of God. This winepress is something which sustains life, and life in all its fullness. Here we are connecting this factory with Bishop Rachel’s vision of LIFE. The wine outpoured from the press impacts everyone, so why do we not share the wine more generously? Why are we so greedy in our occupation of this factory?

We have to look to ourselves because the parables are aimed at our own hearts. I think this is why Jesus tells parables – to allow us to be more self-aware, to enlighten us. And so we have come full-circle, back to what I said religion does for us – enlightenment, or what philosopher calls “the examined life”. We should not be afraid of this at all, we should not be timid in our approach to life. At least that is what the preacher yesterday told the Readers of the diocese, a message I relay to you as we consider the parables for ourselves today.


This sermon is from Stilman Davis. It is copyrighted. You are welcome to use it, but put some extra money in the plate if you do.

Sermons are spoken. They whistle in the wind and enter your ears to echo for some time between them. However, sermons are destined to go on into the distance after they have resonated with you.