Sunday, October 05, 2008

Matthew.21.33-45, October 5, 2008 - Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

“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. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For like the third Sunday in a row, we’ve got Jesus confronting the scribes and Pharisees with a parable. Last week he trapped them into a corner with the parable of the two sons, telling them that the lowest folks of society were way ahead of them in spiritual matters. Before that he asked them where John’s the Baptizer’s Baptism came from. Today he makes them out to be deadbeat tenets only looking out for their own self interest. This should put to bed any notion that Jesus was always meek and mild. He confronted those who held false belief and he did it directly, so much so, that they wanted him dead. But they couldn’t get it done because they were afraid of the crowds. What Jesus does here in this parable is nothing less than a direct confrontation. He takes a well known passage from the prophet Isaiah and he drops it right in the laps of the scribes and Pharisees. The problem they had was that they didn’t seem themselves in the story. Listen again to verse one and two of Isaiah Chapter 5.

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:1-2, ESV)

These religious leaders saw the fault of the vineyard somewhere else. They looked at the sinful folks around them, the folks who didn’t keep the regulations they set up for themselves and they saw them as the sour grapes, the ones who were the cause of God’s anger. They said to themselves, “at least I’m better than those folks over there.”

But Jesus changes the plot. The owner of the vineyard took great care in making a vineyard that would produce the best wine there could be. He put renters in charge of it and went away. So far everyone is comfortable. The scribes and the Pharisees listening to Jesus are sure they know where the story is going. The vineyard is going to produce sour grapes. In their eyes the issue is the bad fruit; bad fruit, bad people. In their eyes there was nothing worse than the folks that were hanging around Jesus. They were sinners; broken people with broken lives; not keeping God’s laws. But the enemies of Jesus have fallen right into Jesus trap. They certainly don’t see themselves as bad fruit. They live their live according to all the rules. They are the renters who are trying to get good fruit. But the trees keep making bad. They probably looked over the crowd around Jesus with a certain look of satisfaction.

Jesus continues the story. When the time came to pay the rent, the renters revolted. The owner sent servant after servant to collect what was owed. But they beat them and killed them. This is a twist that the scribes and Pharisees didn’t see coming. Jesus has lured them in to a false sense of security and lowered the boom. There is no mistaking what Jesus is saying. These religious leaders are just like the ones in the past that beat and killed the prophets that God had sent before. The bible is full of example after example. This is an ugly turn for the scribes and Pharisees they are used to being the heroes, but Jesus has made them the villains. Everyone knows it. Jesus knows it. The crowds of low life people around Jesus know it. And most importantly, the scribes and Pharisees know it. Jesus carries the story one more unbelievable step farther. He tells the scribes and Pharisees exactly what they are going to do with him. Finally the vineyard owner sent his son. The tenants saw their opportunity to be free from the owner once and for all. If they kill the heir they’ll have the vineyard for themselves. The owner won’t have anyone to give it to when he dies. So they kill the son. They throw him out of the vineyard and kill him. Then Jesus turns again and asks these guys a question. They are in trouble again. “When the owner comes back what’s he going to do?” The scribes and Pharisees have to answer. Everyone is looking at them. Everyone knows the parable is about them. What they have to say is self condemning. “He’s gonna kill them and give the vineyard to someone else.” There must have been some kind of mummer in the crowd, some chuckling, some guffaws’, and maybe even a bit if light cheering. Jesus has really knocked these guys down to size. And in a final pounce he finishes them off. Don’t you guys read your bible?

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’? (Matthew 21:42, ESV)

They want Jesus dead. In public he accuses them of being sinners. He embarrasses them in front of the people. He made them out to be the bad fruit. They are sure they are more faithful than the average sinner on the street. They did all the right stuff. They worked hard at keeping all the rules. They were convinced that God loved them more because of what they did. Jesus simply says no. He points out their sin. They think what they do is more important than what God has done. God prepared the vineyard with great care to produce fruit. He did everything necessary. They were there to tend it turn it over when the time came. They have failed to take care of the fruit. But Jesus confrontation is really a call for repentance. Jesus has convicted them of their sin. He offers free forgiveness to all. They should bow at his feet and receive it. Instead of repentance they wanted Jesus dead.

Well, we aren’t the scribes and Pharisees. We haven’t outright rejected Jesus. And so this parable doesn’t speak directly to us in that way. But we can see Jesus’ call for repentance here for us as well. As the church we don’t always live up to God’s desires for us do we? All you have to do is look at all that God has given us. Just like that vineyard, where our Lord did everything necessary for there to be good fruit, he does the same for us here. We have his word every week, and even during the long time without a pastor, God provided for us here. Even though at times it was discouraging, you can clearly see God’s hand a work, his love for his people, showing through the work of all those who faithfully carried out the tasks necessary to keep the church up and running. You know I can’t help thinking about our church when I read the Isaiah passage. The church on the fertile crest of a hill, the rocky ground behind us, a watchtower, and the choice vines; it just sounds like us. God doesn’t call us to be anything other than faithful tenants.

To be sure, we aren’t going to live up to God’s perfect expectations. And be sure God only expects perfection from people. We’ll miss opportunities that are laid right in front of us. We’ll make mistakes in caring for each other. We’ll have disagreements that will drive us crazy. We’ll mis-communicate and misunderstand. That’s because we are sinful people. Sinful people do sinful things. That’s one of the things I’ve been telling you as I visit with you in your homes. The church is a family. We’re going to have the same kind of issues you have in your families. You see, God should march in here with his army and cast us all out, and put us to a miserable death. But that’s not what happens, is it? The Son of the Owner is cast out. He is put to a miserable death. Jesus dies on the cross for us because we misunderstand each other, drive each other crazy, forget to do what we should do, and mistreat each other, and miss opportunities to serve. Not to mention our reluctance to bring the message of God’s love in Jesus to those folks around us every day. God calls us to be faithful. So how are we faithful if we are such poor tenants? The question isn’t weather we sin or not, the question is what happens when we do. In the church, in this vineyard we always deal with all sin in the same way. Jesus calls us to repentance. He takes the law and puts it in our face. We see clearly that we should come to a wretched end. Then Jesus assures us of the forgiveness He has for us. He was cast out, punished, and put to death, for us.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are a family. We are stuck together. You and I are the baptized children of God. We are going to struggle with each other just as any family does. The cause is sin, and we are all sinful. It isn’t a question of if, it is a question of how. How do we deal with issues when they come? Just like Jesus, we offer forgiveness. That baptism you’ve received is God’s way of connecting you to Jesus forgiveness. Your brothers and sisters in Christ here are connected to it also. When we have trouble here, we point to Jesus, we forgive, we fix, and we find a way to move forward. Guess what, that brings us back to where we started. The vineyard, perfectly prepared with all we need. Baptism that connects us together in Jesus; God’s Word to guide; The Lord’s Supper to feed and forgive; and brothers and sister to keep us accountable and give us encouragement. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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