By James Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 20:9-19

9 He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. 10 When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. 12 And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!” 17 But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 19 When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.


Today, on the anniversary of G. K. Chesterton’s death, we would do well to remember that rotund jouster possessed of a sagacious wit and indefatigable sense of humor, writing in a time besotted with public figures just as pharisaical as our own. The word “Pharisee” connotes a particular intertestamental religious sect in Judaism — with whom our Lord frequently verbally sparred as in today’s reading — but in common parlance it has come to mean “a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person.”

Rarely did Chesterton get bogged down imperiously refuting each and every argument of the “Pharisees” of his day. Instead, taking a cue from our Lord, he would tell a joke or a story. For example, in Chesterton’s day, the great science fiction writer H. G. Wells wrote the materialist genealogy Outline of History (in which Edward Shanks stated that Wells “often seems to find himself in the position of scold to the entire human race” — a description that perhaps sounds a bit too familiar?). Rather than write a series of objections to the content of the Outline, Chesterton instead told a different and better story, The Everlasting Man, which is infused with his typical jocular and hopeful engagement with the world and the future. Chesterton’s joyful storytelling frequently swallowed the high-handed pretensions of the intellectuals of his day.

Chesterton remains a worthy example to us today. When sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical rulers descend on us, we should respond as he would: with a humorous tale, a twinkle in the eye, and a gentle fearlessness born of the knowledge that we are characters in a much better story than those told by “Pharisees,” characters who occupy the Promised Land lying on the other side of judgment and death.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Christ Church, Cooperstown, N.Y.
The Diocese of Chandigarh (Church of North India)