Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
[Jesus said,]“Hear another parable. 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. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 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?” 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.” 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. (Matthew 21:33-43, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Pastor Hubert Beck, once told this parable.
There were two beggars. Both were very successful at their occupation. They traveled from town to town collecting food. But there was a very great difference between the two.
The one found many open hands as he traveled, and so he colleted the goods in a sack over his back. Now times were bad, and the outlook for the future wasn’t so good. So he collected as much as he could, saving for a “rainy day.” Hording what he received because he was sure that worse times were coming. As he traveled and continued to place everything in his bag and the bag grew heavier and heavier. The bread that he received freely went stale and the vegetables rotten. Finally, the sack became too heavy to carry, and he broke down on the side of the road from the sheer weight of his horde. And there he died, trying to eat rotten food and stale bread.
The other beggar also met with success. He too carried what he received in a bag over his shoulder. But unlike the first, whenever he found people in need he gave out what he had. He traveled light because there were always people who needed what he had in his bag. He was always more than generous. He never grew weary of bearing the weight like the first beggar, because his sack was always light. In fact, during his many years of travel he was able to care for many people who were in far more need than he was.
These two parables are connected. The men in the vineyard were provided with everything they needed to produce a good crop for the landlord. They didn’t own the property; they were, in a sense, beggars living off the good graces of the owner. He had provided everything that was needed for a successful venture; a fence to keep unwanted animals and people out; a press to squash the grapes into wine, and even a watch tower to keep watch over everything. The tenants were there to watch it and make sure it produced fruit while the master was away.
Jesus doesn’t make any bones about it. The tenants were God’s people of the day, the people of Israel and their leaders. They had been provided a land and opportunity. They had been chosen by God to show his wonderful gift of grace to the whole world. They were beggars who had been richly blessed to give to the people around them.
But we shouldn’t be too quick to look down our noses at them, because we can be just like they were. We’ve been given so much. We’ve been given wonderful gifts to fill our sack in this vineyard. Through God’s Word and Sacraments, God’s undeserved love, we receive new life through the forgiveness of our sins. We live here; we have life here; not because we deserve anything from God, we are beggars, and receive these good gifts because of his mercy.
Jesus’ parable seems a bit strange. How could it be that tenants would do what those tenants did? After all the landlord did to make a perfect place to work, he provided them with everything they needed. How could they repay him by beating up his messengers. And not just once but twice. And finally they even kill his son. The landlord isn’t doing anything unreasonable in asking for rent. Their reaction seems out of place.
Well, according to scholars this kind of thing actually happened in Jesus’ day. The law said that if a landlord didn’t collect a harvest for three years the tenants could claim the property for themselves. The killing of the son outside of the vineyard, in public was their way of making that claim. So, as Jesus often did, he probably used a real life event to make his point. But there is something even more real life about the parable. The set up comes right from the pages of the Old Testament. Did you hear how the preparation of the vineyard was repeated in the two readings? The way Jesus tells it by using Isaiah he puts God’s people squarely in the vineyard. The crowd standing around him where the children of those who had brutally beaten God’s messengers, the prophets and even killed them. And standing right before them was Jesus. Finally, God sends his Son. The church leaders were so angry with him that they had him dragged outside the city and crucified. These tenants of God’s vineyard followed the parent’s example. They had gladly received all God’s gifts, all the produce of the vineyard but it turned to arrogance. They didn’t see that what they had received wasn’t just for them to horde for themselves but it was to be used to show God’s love to the whole world.
How could this happen? We might ask. How could they? But, don’t miss the log in our own eye. It happens with us, too. We gladly receive the things of God, his forgiveness, his life, his joy, his Word. But we often miss the chances we have to give it away, and we foolishly act as if it is only for us and only for us in this place. There are always excuses, like lying ourselves into believing that everyone we know already knows Jesus, or believing that they don’t need to hear about the forgiveness of sins in Christ. We excuse ourselves for being afraid of persecution, or telling ourselves that it’s the pastor’s job to meet new people and getting them to come to church. And we even pretend that it’s none of our business that our friends and neighbors have stopped coming to church. We have been known to live our lives as if God’s gifts to us are only for us and our welfare, to be stuffed into a sack on our backs and saved for our use only.
That’s where Jesus comes in, reminding us that the gifts that he gives are for everyone. In last week’s epistle reading we heard about Jesus humbling himself by taking the form of a servant. He gave all that he had, just like the beggar who traveled light. He was blessed to be a blessing and He continually gave to those who gathered around Him. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He clothed the naked. He constantly reminded the people of God’s great love for them. The bag that was filled with good things was emptied. He didn’t die like the beggar who was overcome by the weight of his treasures. Jesus died giving finally even Himself. And finally gave up everything, even his very life, for the sake of sinful human beings.
You and I have been placed as tenants in the vineyard. We’ve been very blessed with everything that we need to bear fruit. I look around here and marvel at all that we have, all that we’ve been given by God’s grace. Here in this church there are people with all kinds of talents and abilities. Here in this church there are people with time and treasure. Those are wonderful gifts from God. But just like the vineyard was very complete with its fence, press and tower, we have all that we need and more. God’s most important gift is his Word and Sacraments, where we continually receive forgiveness of our sins, and as Luther reminds us, where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. You see, He promises that where his Word is there will be fruit. And you surely don’t have to look far to see it. We’ve got children in Sunday School classes hearing about Jesus. We’ve got shut-ins listening to recordings they can actually understand. We’ve sent cash to people hurting from the forces of nature. You see, even though we are selfish God is selfless in Christ. You see, even though we often fail, God is faithful. Even though we sometime horde, God provides growth.
Can we do more? Could we get out there and share these blessings with more people all around us. Of course we can. That’s precisely what God wants us to do, that’s why we are in this community. That’s why God opened the doors of this church those 90 some years ago. He wanted to give you all you need, and he wants you to give it to others.
You see, we don’t have to wonder what beggar we are like. We don’t have to worry about whether we are good tenants or bad. We are in God’s vineyard and have that we need. Lot’s of times we act like the first beggar who kept everything for himself. And God offers us forgiveness through Christ. We receive his wonderful gifts and promise to do better. But it’s through God’s promises, through God’s work in us through the Holy Spirit, we can and often are like the beggar who gave until his bag was empty. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.