From Matthew’s Gospel:

[Jesus said:] For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 20:1 (NRSV) – November 28, 2013.)

Man Mowing a LawnI had to read the first line of this familiar parable three or four times this morning before my eyes (it had to be my eyes; it couldn’t have been my brain) focused well enough to properly read the word landowner. On first reading, I read it as lawnmower.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a lawnmower . . . .”


I read it again; same thing! Shake my head; drink some coffee; look again. Oh! Landowner!

So I read the rest of the story about the vineyard owner hiring men in the morning, more at noon, a last bunch late in the day . . . and then paying them all the same wage. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (v. 16) Nice counterpoint to the really awful bit of the First Letter of Peter appointed for today: “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” (1 Peter 2:18)

Although I really feel like I should be contemplating the issues of economic justice the two readings present, especially on Thanksgiving Day when I must acknowledge that I am so blessed and there are so many who aren’t, that has to be a conversation for another time. Meditating on the daily readings, I just kept coming back to my blurry-eyed misreading of the text.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a lawnmower . . . .”

Several weeks ago, back when it was warm and the grass was growing and it hadn’t rained for a few days so the dirt wasn’t spongy and the grass wasn’t too wet and I could mow the lawn, that’s what I was doing. Running the machine in long, curving swaths across our hillside back yard, I noticed a praying mantis in the piece I’d be covering in the next pass. The insect was bright green, about two inches long, and apparently injured.

Sure enough on my next pass there it was, right in front of the lawnmower. I disengaged the mower blade, disengaged the self-propelling mechanism, powered down the engine, set the brake, and walked around to scoop up the bug. I carried it to the edge of the lawn, to a flower bed where we have planted day lilies, forsythia, and butterfly bush, and set it among the plants. I hoped that I hadn’t been responsible for its injuries and that it would regrow whatever limb it was missing. (I think mantids are like crabs, that they can grow back whole limbs.) I walked back to the mower, re-engaged all the mechanisms, released the brake, and resumed my mowing.

So I think I can see how the kingdom of heaven might be like a lawnmower, if the word is understood to refer to the person doing the mowing, not to the machine.

I’m still working on the machine as a metaphor for heaven . . . I’ll probably be working on that one all day. Reading scripture in the early morning does that, sets my mind spinning and whirling and chopping away at these images, the ones actually in the bible and the extrabiblical ones my blurry-eyed imagination puts there. All day long. These images and metaphors challenge preconceptions, whack down received wisdom, pulverize prejudices, slice through both silly and profound notions, and mix my thoughts and the things I think I know all together in a rich mulch from which new ideas often grow and old ones give fruit.

Interestingly, a colleague yesterday commented on Facebook: “One of the things I am thankful for is the interesting dialogues and debates that can be fostered via Facebook. We may not always agree on any number of a wide variety of issues, but it is always interesting and informative to see the diversity of opinions that are offered on any number of topics from Ashes to Go, to politics, to how we prepare recipes, to how to approach some of the pressing social ills of our day, and so on and so forth. For me it helps further develop my own thoughts and perspective.” That’s my take on it, too, and it’s a lot like the processing I do as I reflect on biblical and extra-biblical metaphors; it all gets mashed together into a fertile mass.

So today while I’m at church presiding at the Eucharist, at home roasting a turkey, later in the day playing dominoes with friends, that’s what will be happening. I’ll be thinking about strange metaphors, about contemplation, about Facebook conversations, and what it all might teach, because “The kingdom of heaven is like a lawnmower . . . .”

Thanks be to God!


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.