A Parable For Modern Times
TEXT: LUKE 20:9-19
5 LENT, C
“A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while.” Many of the people listening to Jesus were tenant farmers, working the land of another that lived far away. But tenants and landlords rarely are on the same side of the bargaining table. The relationship between owners and tenants is usually tense a best. Most of us would rather be owners than renters. It makes sense. Renters pay, while owners collect. Owners are in control while tenants are under another’s control. Control is the name of the game. We do not like to be at another’s mercy, even when the other is God Himself.
But we are tenants, not owners. Everything we have is on loan from God. We sometimes imagine that we are owners. “It’s my money and I can spend it as I please.” “It’s my body and I can do what I want with it.” “It’s my time and I can use it however I wish.” “It’s my life and I don’t need God or the Church or anyone to tell me how to run it.” “It’s our church and we can do as we please in it.” That’s the great lie of this age. But the truth is that God is the owner, we are his tenants. We have a stewardship, a responsibility to use His gifts wisely and faithfully. And God gives His gifts in the hope of finding a harvest of fruit - trust in Him and love for one another that comes when we trust God above all things.
The tenants staged a kind of tenant revolt. When harvest time came, the landowner sent one of his servants. Instead of giving him the produce, they beat him and sent him away empty- handed. Again, the owner sent another servant, and they beat him up to and insulted him to boot, and sent him back empty- handed. And a third servant . . . the tenants wound and send back with nothing.
At this point, I can well imagine the rest of the man’s servants saying to themselves, “There’s no way I’m going to those deadbeat tenants.” You would hardly blame the landlord for evicting them right on the spot. Three times he sent his servants to collect what was rightfully his. Three times his servants returned beaten and bloodied, empty-handed. Just when the average landlord would have given up and taken legal action, this landowner does something unimaginable, hoping against hope to receive a harvest instead of hostility.
“What shall I do?" he asks, "I will send my beloved son. Maybe they will respect him.” Nothing in the track record of those tenants suggested any such thing. You have to stop and wonder. What kind of father would send his beloved son to a bunch of people who have already mistreated his servants? The parable gives us a picture of God’s patience, His relentless mercy, His passionate will to save us at all costs. What sort of father would send his beloved son to a lot of murderous deadbeat tenants?
God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
This parable is the story of each one of us. While we were still His enemies, turned against Him in rebellion, the Father sent His Son into the world, to take on our humanity, to become one with us, to save the very world that rejected him. God sent His beloved Son after the world, and Israel herself, the very ones who had already beaten, stoned, and killed God’s servants, the prophets who came to prepare the Son’s way. But that is the nature of God’s mercy. He keeps coming back again and again, seeking the fruit of repentance and faith, risking everything.
Within a few days of speaking this parable, the religious authorities of Jerusalem would stir up Jesus’ crucifixion at the hands of Pilate, on a hill named Golgotha (Skull), outside the city. The parable would become reality. God sent His Son to His vineyard, His Israel, and His Son was despised and rejected and killed outside the city gates of Jerusalem.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to those ingrate tenants? He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.” Which is precisely what happened. Less than forty years after Jesus’ crucifixion outside Jerusalem, the Roman army came and destroyed the city and its temple. The glory of God that once resided in the temple was now in the Church, not a building but a people gathered around the Word of Christ and the Sacrament of His body and blood. The priesthood of the temple ended. The ministry of the Word and the Sacrament began.
The son is the end of the line in the parable. He is the last word from the vineyard owner. Reject the son and there is nothing but judgment. In the past, God spoke to his people by the prophets. But now in these last days, God has spoken to us by His beloved Son. Jesus is God’s last word to Israel, and to the world. There is no other way to the Father than through Jesus. There is salvation in no other name but Jesus. There is no other Savior from sin and death but Jesus, the beloved Son of God, who came to His own, who was rejected and crucified, whose death the Father received as the atoning sacrifice for our sin.
To reject the Son is to reject the Father’s will to save you. The tenants in the parable were condemned not because they were worse tenants than any other in the neighborhood, not because their harvest was poor. They were condemned because they rejected the owner’s servants, and last of all, his son. It is in the rejection of the Son, and only in His rejection, that judgment comes.
The parable was a warning to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day not to reject His coming and His claim. It serves as a warning to the Church of every age not to take God’s grace for granted, not to reject the Son who comes to us in the name of the Lord, not to despise His Baptism or the Supper of His body and blood or His Word of forgiveness. God forces His grace on no one. He forces no one to be saved from death and hell. He gives His gifts; He sends His Son; He gives us the Holy Spirit who delivers all that Jesus died to win for us. He awaits the harvest - broken and contrite hearts, faith in His Son Jesus Christ, love for one another.
In the end, the full weight of our life rests on Jesus. “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces.” We must be broken, if we are going to be made whole again. “A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise.” We must die, daily to ourselves in repentance, if we are going to live. The alternative is to falling on Christ in repentance is to be crushed by the sheer weight of His presence. “But when that rejected stone falls on any one, it will crush him.” Either receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus won for you by His death on the cross, and trust in Him, or be crushed resisting and refusing His death and resurrection. Every sin has been spoken for in the death of Jesus. Every sin is forgivable. Every sinner has been died for. Only unbelief is unforgivable.
There is a piece of Gospel irony in this parable. The wicked tenants thought that by killing the son they could gain the inheritance. And in a twisted way, they were right. Through the death of the Son comes the life of the world and the inheritance of eternal life. God used the rejection of Israel to work the forgiveness and salvation of all. Who would have imagined that God’s idea of saving the world would involved His Son being killed at the hands of His own people, and that God would make that miserable, unjust death of His Son the atoning sacrifice for sin.
What will the Father do with His Son who has been cast out of the vineyard and killed by the wicked tenants? That’s the question that wasn’t asked in the parable. What will the father do with His dead son? He will raise His beloved Son from the dead, and seat Him at the right hand of power, forgive those who killed him, and give the inheritance eternal life to all who trust in Him.
Trust in the Son, the rejected Stone who is now the cornerstone of your salvation. Fall on Him with all the brokenness of your life, for He was broken for you. He will raise you up and give you life, “just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”