18th Sunday after Pentecost | Parable of the Tenants
Matthew 21: 33-46
There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.
The master in Jesus’ parable seems every bit reasonable.
He plants a vineyard.
He builds a fence to protect it.
He digs a winepress, so that the fruits grown there will be used well.
And finally, he leases it to tenants.
They can live there, and work there, and thrive there.
All in all, it’s a really good deal.
The master isn’t even asking for a lot in return:
A minor portion of the harvest, when the time comes.
But you heard the story.
Servants were sent.
And servants were sent back,
Some were beaten,
Some were stoned,
And some didn’t return at all.
In the beginning, the master of the vineyard was fair.
More than that, he was practical, judicious, and generous, even to a fault.
But now he seems foolish or naïve – or maybe both.
And if there were any doubt about that,
If anyone still thinks the master is as reasonable as when the story began,
Jesus quickly makes it clear that he isn’t.
“Finally, he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When, therefore, the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
Well, what will he do?
You’re all reasonable, bright people.
What would you do?
These hired hands have mocked your generosity.
They’ve kept what is yours.
They’ve beaten and killed your servants.
In the absurd hope that you’ll finally give up and leave them alone,
They dragged your only son outside the fence, and executed him.
So. What would you do?
They said to Him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to those other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
That’s what I’d do.
It’s what any reasonable master would do.
I think it’s what you’d do, too.
It’s exactly what wicked tenants deserve.
It’s exactly what you deserve.
Yes, the chief priests and the Pharisees knew that Jesus was talking about them.
And He was, but not only them.
This parable is for every tenant in the vineyard.
This parable is for every tenant who has made a mess of the master’s land,
Who has wasted time, resources, and opportunities.
This parable is for every tenant who has frivolously squandered and drank away the profits,
Who has selfishly kept for himself the little bit the Lord asks to make the whole operation go and grow.
This parable is for every tenant who has rejected message after message from servant after servant,
Imagining, insisting that he did not really speak for the Master.
Jesus tells this parable to you:
You who would run the vineyard your way, and not His way,
Who would rather put Him to his death than let Him have His way with your life.
After all, the Son’s ways sound as backwards as the Master’s ways.
And based on what you’d do to the wicked tenants, there’s no doubt,
That you are practical, reasonable people.
And so you expect the Master to be as reasonable as you.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
As Jesus tells this parable, He is only days away from the cross,
Where the Kingdom of God (i.e. Jesus Himself) is taken away from us.
On the cross, Jesus is fully and finally rejected.
It is pure foolishness to those who are so reasonable:
That in killing the Heir, the Son of God,
We actually are given a share in His inheritance.
And yet it is.
On the cross, Jesus is made the cornerstone, and none other.
Not the stone tablets of the Law that condemn you;
Not the stones you threw at the Him and His messengers;
Not even the stone that would keep Jesus in the grave.
That stone He has rejected, and cast aside.
And now, this Son, the Heir, the Kingdom of God come in the Flesh,
He is given to a people producing the fruits of the Kingdom.
What good fruits are those?
Generous hearts and generous hands,
Open ears and gentle words,
Repentance, and faith.
If that makes you nervous, it shouldn’t.
It’s no different for you than it is for St. Paul.
It isn’t that you have already obtained this, or that you are somehow perfect;
But you press on to make these works and this resurrection your own,
Because Christ Jesus has made you His own.
For the murdered Son has been raised.
And death is defeated.
So the message from the Master’s Son is this:
That the Master is now your Father.
The inheritance is yours.
The vineyard is yours.
And the Son is yours,
Because you are His.
In your Baptism, He has washed you into His Holy wounds,
And made you a co-heir with Him,
You are an heir –
Of His life, His death, and of His resurrection.
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;”
It is not reasonable.
It is not fair.
It is not the way you would have done it.
“This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes.”