Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wicked or Gifted Tenant?

Last night, after several days of restlessness, I finally settled down to listen to Pray-As-You-Go for a few minutes.

Prayer emerged that stunned ~ even shocked ~ me.

The reading was today's lectionary text, the passage known as The Parable of the Wicked Tenants: A landowner leaves his tenants to work his field and eventually sends his slaves, and then his son, to collect his rent.  The tenants fail to honor those sent to them; in fact, they kill them all.

The hallmark of Ignatian prayer is an imaginative exploration of a Scriptural passage in the context of your own life.  I wasn't sure what to make of this one; in fact, at first,  I drew a complete blank.  I had already written a brief meditation on one of its final verses for my new congregation, which I will (finally!) begin to serve tomorrow in my official capacity as pastor.  (In lieu of actually showing up for the first two Sundays for which I had originally been expected, I've been sending them little pastoral letters.) In that short page, I had reminded them that Jesus is the cornerstone of our lives, the one who sets the direction, even when the times are as complex as ours have suddenly become.  

But what else?  How might the parable speak to me personally? 

I had no idea ~ and then I did ~ and I began to write my own version, taking the Scriptural words apart, sentence by sentence, and applying them to my own life.

In the simplest of summaries:

God planted a woman's life, nourished and tended it, gave her numerous gifts and opportunities . . . When God was ready  to ask her to share her gifts, God sent a new challenge her way . . . but in her anger and fear and frustration and uncertainty, she did not even recognize the invitation  . . .  God might have thrown up God's hands in exasperation . . .  But instead, the words of Jesus became clear: "The things you want to reject, illness and all of its consequences, these are the source from which my love pours forth; these are the foundations from which I can express my love, if you will cooperate with me in this project."

I don't believe that God sends cancer, or kills our children.  I don't believe that illness and death are God's will.  I don't believe that God has ever had a plan for us to be broken or damaged or hurt or lost.

I do believe, however, that in the midst of all of those things which do inevitably happen, God is the landowner who invites us to turn our gifts into gifts for others.  The challenge that God sends is not cancer; the challenge that God sends and the invitation that God issues are to respond with welcoming openness to what might be, rather than with violent rejection toward what is immediately apparent.

To be honest, the invitation seems rather on the unreasonable side to me.  My child has died and now I have cancer, and you want me to pastor a church?

And then I think: What a gift, indeed.  My child has died and I have cancer and yet: I am invited to care for and guide others as I myself am cared for and guided.

I don't think I'm exactly a wicked tenant.  But, you know, left to my own devices in this messy situation, it seems that I sure could be.  And that recognition ~ that's what I mean when I say that I was stunned by my own prayer.

Sometimes, even (or perhaps especially) in the midst of turmoil and distraction, prayer is entirely a matter of reception.


  1. Through ministry to others, we tend to our own needs. Through outward focus we, in turn, receive gifts back tenfold, if we can dig deep to find the willingness to move forward through the fear and pain.

    Yes, it all seems dauntingly unreasonable.
    Don't be stunned. You are one strong woman.

  2. Sort of akin to what I wrote in my LIP email this morning. But as usual, you said it far more eloquently.

  3. Thanks for putting this into words Robin. I feel very strongly the way you do, that God does not will or want these things to happen to us, but God can and does help us to help others through our experiences. My own call to ministry probably would not have been realized were it not for tragedy. I echo Mary, you are a very strong and resilient woman, and God is using you for great things. Thanks be to God for you!

  4. I listened to that pray as you go recording the other day and felt like I had never heard that part of scripture before.

    Thank you, as always, for your transparency.