Heroes and Villains


Today’s readings:
Psalms 33; 146 , Isaiah 1:21-31 , 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , Luke 20:9-18

Have you ever seen those online quizzes with names like “Which Seven Dwarfs character are you?” or “What comic book figure are you?” Generally they ask silly questions (while secretly gathering marketing information) then reveal why you are most like Bashful or Batman. Although meaningless and generic, the results never seem to be especially surprising. Most of us have a pretty good idea of who we are.

Parables are a different story. We think we know which character represents us because we want to identify with the lost sheep or the repentant sinner, but maybe that’s because we know which characters are “supposed” to be admirable. Take the parable of the Wicked Tenants, for instance. An owner leased his vineyard while he was out of the country. When he sent a slave to collect his share of the harvest, the tenants beat the slave and sent him back. They did the same thing to the next two slaves he sent. Finally he sent his son, whom they killed. The owner would come to destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. With (very) little analysis, we can conclude the owner is God, the wicked tenants are the religious leaders He entrusted with His people, the beaten slaves are the prophets, the slain son is Jesus, and the new inheritors of the vineyard are Christ’s followers. Easy, right?

Not so fast. We don’t always get to be the hero.

Twenty centuries later, it’s the Christian establishment’s turn to work the vineyard of the Western world, and the powerful – or at least those who like to think they own everything – don’t tend to fare well in parables. On the whole, the church isn’t kind to prophetic voices of dissent. We declare them apostate or stop carrying their DVDs in our bookstores. When they demand too much inclusiveness, we’d rather leave them spiritually bruised and empty-handed than consider we may have erred by trying to assume ownership of the grace that is only God’s to claim. Today we are the tenants running amok. Whom are we beating?

Advent is the perfect time to try viewing yourself from a different perspective. If it turns out you’re The Evil Queen or The Joker, with grace you just might be able to turn that around before Jesus gets here.

Comfort: There’s time to change your story.

Challenge: Ask yourself who might see you as the bad guy, and whether they have a point.

Prayer: Oh Lord, teach me to be humble and help me to be kind. Amen.

Discussion: What fictional character do you relate to, and why?

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