St. Matthew.jpg

Talk To The Animals

Matthew 21:33-46

The Rev. Jon Roberts

4 October

2020

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

33 “Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; 35 and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. 37 Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet.

Parable of the wicked husbandmen by Marten van Valckenborch, c.1580-90

If I could talk to the animals, just imagine it
Chattin' with a chimp in chimpanzee
Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting with a cheetah
What a neat achievement it would be.

If we could talk to the animals, learn all their languages
Maybe take an animal degree
I'd study elephant and eagle, buffalo and beagle
Alligator, guinea pig, and flea.

If people ask me, "Can you speak rhinoceros?"
I'd say, "Of courseros, can't you?"

If I conferred with our furry friends, man to animal
Think of the amazing repartee
If I could walk with the animals, talk with the animals
Grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals
And they could talk to me.[1]

Bobby Darin sang this imaginative and lively song in 1967 and it was used in that wonderful film, “Dr. Doolittle.” The story, as you can imagine the plot is about the good Doctor who learns how to talk with the animals. It begins with him fixing the wing of a lame duck, and of course the duck had to tell everybody about it. Soon, animals from all over the town came to him for health check up and advice in relationships. It was never ending. I’m not sure if he ever learned to speak rhinoceros, but he got around. The story is a good one in that the animals were shown to be more kind, considerate and loving of the one sent to help them. Humans were portrayed as the insensitive ones, often seen as thinking only of themselves. In a way, the producers were challenging us to be more like the animals.

Today is the day we offer our annual Blessing of the Animals, celebrating not only the lives of those precious pets who give comfort and love when we needed it most, but for the good doctor, St. Francis of Assisi who was known to care for them in his day. One could make an argument that he talked with the animals. Frances could have enjoyed a modest life. His family was wealthy and could have died an old age very comfortable, but he did not. Instead he chose to give up everything. He chose to walk with the animals and talk with the animals. Many stories circulated of him covered with birds, often seen perched on his body; another of him entering a village with a wolf by his side. Many could not understand how he had this connection and control over them, but it had nothing to do with him controlling the animals. It had everything to do with him caring for them. Maybe this is something we could all learn a lesson. That is the good thing about having pets. They follow us around the house. They make funny noises. They like to play. They cuddle. They seem to appreciate who we are, even when we probably do not deserve it. The animals look for the best in us. That is why when we behave in a way that is opposite, anticipating the worst in others, we will never know accepting.

In the parable today, try to look at it through this angle, remembering this is a parable intended to make you think and relate to your own life. “There was a landowner. He owned a vineyard and built a fence around it and dug a wine press in it and built a watchtower. When the harvest came he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.”[2] They beat one, and killed two more. What was he thinking, to send his son to do the same? He really thought they would respect his son, since he was not a slave, but he was wrong. They killed him too. Where is this story going? There are just too many questions.

In order to understand, let’s assume that the landowner is God. The vineyard represents the people who belong to God and the fence, the watchtower and the press represents the temple, or the church. It is established to protect, to watch for the coming of the Messiah and to press the need for a holy and disciplined life. The tenants happen to be the priests and rulers, the church and state, given the privilege to keep the vineyard safe and prepared for the harvest of an enriched, talented and nourished society. It needs to bear fruit, but they lay claim to it. They did all the work, after all. But God sent prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Samuel and John. Some they beat down with their words, others they drove out and some they killed. But it is the Son who takes the center of the story. The tenants are confident that they are strong enough without these slaves being sent and the son, they do not accept at all. This parable ends with the death of the son and the imagined shock of the landowner, but we don’t know what happens next. The story ends, or does it?

There is an interesting twist. The Son of God is raised from the dead. He was trampled, like those grapes in the vineyard and poured out, but he rose again. What they intended for evil, God intended for good.
God created this kingdom on earth, full of Animals. Humans actually belong to this animal kingdom. We are supposed to act like the loving, sensitive, precious ones that have been entrusted to our care. Why would you ever beat or kill one? That is savage. All God intends to do is to walk with us and to talk with us and to tell us we are His own, but do we truly accept Him? Do we truly accept Jesus, His Son into the blessed vineyard he has let us lease? Time and time again, we have learned that although he, “made us the rulers of creation. [But] we turned against him, and betrayed His trust; and we turned against one another.”[3] Maybe we should act more like the animals we know. Be more kind and loving. Less defensive and fearful. Jesus can help. He is the doctor who does much good.

All that God wants to do is to walk and talk with us. That is why he sent Jesus who came to learn our language. What did we do, and what will we do in return? Where do we see Jesus today walking with us?

He is Chattin' with a chimp in chimpanzee
Talking with a tiger, chatting with a cheetah
What a neat achievement, he believes, it will be.

If he could talk to the animals, learn all their languages
Maybe take an animal degree
He’d study elephant and eagle, buffalo and beagle
Alligator, guinea pig, and flea.

If people ask him, "Can you speak rhinoceros?"
He'd say, "Of courseros, can't you?"

All He wants to do is to walk and talk,
With you and me.

[1] Bobby Darin, “If I could talk to the animals” Sony Records, “Sings Dr. Doolittle album,” 1967.
[2] Matthew 21:33-46
[3] Eucharistic Prayer C, The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 370.

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