Deafness is a condition which runs in my family. I am very thankful that thus far it has missed my generation: but I know firsthand how isolating it can be. I do remember my nan, though, often giving my grandad a gentle telling off when he had ignored something his wife had clearly told him which he definitely didn’t want to do – ‘There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear,’ is what she would say.
I’m sure many of you can relate to that! Even if someone you love has great hearing, it’s amazing how often they fail to hear something they don’t want to. I may even be guilty of it myself on very rare occasions (Alise would be nodding her head vigorously at this point).
Today’s parable is a perfect illustration of my nan’s homespun wisdom – only the stakes are much higher. Many centuries ago God had chosen the descendants of Abraham to be his special people: he loved them and looked after them, gave them a land and his blessing, and in return a set of instructions for how to live. However, the story of the Old Testament catalogues how often God’s people failed to listen, how easily they turned away from him.
Jesus describes this refusal to consistently love and obey God in a very pithy tale. A vineyard owner leaves his precious vineyard in the hands of tenants. These tenants are supposed to harvest the fruit, but every time harvest season comes around the fruit never finds its way out of the tenants’ hands. He sends servant after servant, but each time the servant is badly treated and driven away.
It’s a clear reference to Israel’s failure to live in covenant relationship to the master (God) – they were supposed to produce fruit which blessed the nations, but instead they kept it to themselves, and ignored the prophets (servants) who called them to change. So God sends one last emissary – his own son. What would the tenants do to him?
We know the end of the story – and fascinatingly, so do the religious leaders. Even though Jesus is challenging them not to go through with what he knows is in their hearts, they don’t change. You could say that they don’t hear. All that is stopping them is the crowd’s admiration for Jesus. Perhaps you know a few people who are determined to stay ‘deaf’ to Jesus’ gentle approaches: take a moment to pray for them today: even the hardest hearts can soften.
Similarly, we may be horrified at the behaviour of the so-called religious elite: but there’s a challenge here for us, too. It’s easy for us to grow ‘deaf’ to God’s word, or to want to keep his blessings to ourselves. Jesus still comes to us, every day. Let’s pray today for grace to keep a soft and open heart to God, and a willingness to keep bearing fruit to the world around us.