Well, our gospel lesson from Matthew this morning is that proverbial straw. Jesus has entered into Jerusalem, he hast brought his ministry from the towns into the heart of Israel. He has cleared the temple, infuriated the priests in elders with questions to questions and finally in the parable we read today makes things as plain as day as to where things stand.
Our passage this morning is one that might normally be read leading up to Easter as it ends with the priests and Pharisee’s deciding that they needed to find a way to have Jesus arrested. It is the motivations behind why Jesus needed to be arrested that we need to explore.
So let’s look a little closer at this parable and find out what is it that Jesus says that finally sets the high priests off.
Rebellion, In the Name of Love – Audio Sermon
First let’s consider the parable itself. The parable of the Tenants is found in Mark, Luke and Matthew’s gospel. It is one of only three parables that is told in each of these gospel accounts. This tells us that the writers of these gospels thought that this story was important, that it held clear meaning for the early church.
Now, if you have been paying attention over the past few weeks you will have noticed a trend with the parables we have read. The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard starts like this: The kingdom of Heaven is like landowner who owned a vineyard, he hired workers. The parable of the Two Sons starts like this: Once there was a man who had two sons, he asked the elder one.
Do you notice what is happening?
Jesus is setting up a simple scene and then launching directly into the story. There are no additional ancillary details to concern ourselves with. We get right into the story. However, in our parable today this is not the case. Jesus doesn’t just launch into the story, he pauses and he sets the scene.
In the Parable of the Tenants Jesus tells us that there is a landowner who planted a vineyard, he put a wall around it, dug a winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard out to some farmers and went away.
What does all this mean, why does Jesus need to tell us about the wall, winepress and the tower? They don’t come back up in the story so what is the significance? Why does Jesus need to tell us these details?
This is where we need to do some scriptural sleuthing. You see the wall, winepress and watchtower are a reference to Isaiah 5. In which Isaiah is writing about how Babylonians were about to wipe out God’s vineyard, which is Israel.
By invoking this image right at the beginning of his parable Jesus is evoking some very dire imagery in the minds of his audience. To us it is a wall and a watchtower, to them it was a threat of destruction.
Jesus continues his story about how the landowner sent servants to collect the fruit at harvest time. The servants were beaten, killed and stoned. The servants represent the prophets of the Old Testament who warned the people that they were straying from God’s path, that they were not living up to their obligations as covenant people.
So the landowner sends his son, thinking surely they will respect my son. And we all know who the son is and in the parable Jesus describes how he himself as the son will die at the hands of those who are renting the fields.
So Jesus asks the priests and those assembled, what will the owner of the vineyard do when he returns?
To which they reply, the landowner will bring those wretches to an end and he will give the vineyard to others who will harvest the crop and give the landowner his fair share.
It is the priests and Pharisees who describe the judgement. At this point I do not think they fully realize that Jesus is talking about them or that they have described their own punishment.
You can almost hear Jesus sigh. They understand the implications, but do not yet see how they themselves are implicated.
Jesus then quotes another piece of scripture, from Psalm 118. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Psalm 118 is perhaps one of the most quoted pieces of scripture that we find in the New Testament.
Jesus finishes by telling those assembled that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to others who will produce its fruit. That anyone who falls on the cornerstone will be broken to pieces. The inclusion of the imagery from Isaiah 5 is driven home to the high priests. They now understand the message that Jesus has delivered to them.
Jesus has established a ministry of reconciliation and has brought that message to Jerusalem. There those who are in power have heard that message and fearing for their own comfort, security and authority have decided that Jesus simply needs to go.
This parable is a story about rejection.
The tenants reject their arrangement with the landowner and refuse to share the crops. Then the tenants reject the landowner’s servants and finally they reject the landowner’s son.
We live in a world of rejection. A world that dismisses ideas as frivolous, that calls claims for justice and equality as unattainable. A world that rejects peace and prosperity for pleasure and profit. A world that looks to violence before other alternatives. Where those who bring a message of peace, justice and righteousness are often persecuted for their efforts.
Whether we consider the genocide that is occurring in Iraq and Syria, the protests for democracy in Hong Kong, the kidnapping of young women in Africa or racial and domestic violence that occurs within our own country. In each of these instances there is always a voice that calls for peace, that calls for dialogue and diplomacy. Which seeks to find an alternative to violence, a voice which speaks to the peace that we can find with God. In each of these scenario’s violence has been done or threatened against those who seek a peaceful way forward. A way forward built upon God’s love, peace and grace.
Jesus recognized as much. He preached peace, tolerance and equality but he recognized that the reality of creation had become something different. That God’s people, just as our society today has done, had rejected God.
When we look at the Parable of the Tenants we see a story where the bounty of creation has been scorned, where God’s people were rejected and harmed. Where God was rejected and harmed.
Jesus recognized the truth of all of this. And so in an act of ultimate humility Jesus offers himself up in our stead. Jesus recognized our need for a scapegoat, our need for a patsy to sacrifice so that we could go on pretending that everything was alright. So Jesus takes our pain, our injustice, our jealousy, and our violence. Jesus takes all of that onto the cross and transforms it into a message of grace and salvation. Jesus says, because I have done this it should not have to happen anymore.
Friends, the turn of events in our story is that in rejecting the son, in rejecting the stone the cornerstone of God’s saving grace was laid. God took our rejection, God took our broken promises and provided us with the most magnificent gift of grace that we could have ever imagined.
In their song Window in the Skies the band U2 sing:
The shackles are undone, the bullets quit the gun
The heat that’s in the sun will keep us when there’s none
The rule has been disproved, the stone it has been moved
The grave is now a groove, all debts are removed.
Oh can’t you see what love has done?
What it’s done to me?
It is time for us to lay claim to the message of Jesus. For us to see and recognize that love has done for us. It is time for us to make a concrete difference in our world. For us to recognize the sacrifice that Christ has made on our behalf and to say never again.
“The world you desire does not comes not by chance but by change.”
God through Jesus Christ came into the world to make a change. A change for the betterment of humanity and creation, to provide a new covenant, a new relationship.
God is not taking a chance on us. We are purposefully built and called, as followers of Christ we are being led to create change in God’s world, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. That takes faith and that takes trust. It means letting God be in control of our lives, it means building our foundation on the cornerstone that is Jesus Christ.
This week I ask you to actively pray that the message of the cornerstone of our faith, Jesus Christ be heard in the world. That the peace of Christ be accorded to all people, in all places, at all times. And that you continue to pray as to how we at St. Andrew’s, as individuals and a community of faith, can find a way for people to accept that message. Amen.
Text: Matthew 21: 33-46