Listen to Another Parable

16th Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 2, 2011 for Zion Stratford
Matthew 21:33-46

Listen to Another Parable

Listen to another parable Jesus says.  However, before we do it is important to know the situation in which Jesus tells this parable.  In what location, and to who, and what are they hearing are all important things to know, to give us a clearer understanding.

Listen to another parable.  You can almost hear an audible click as the chief priests, scribes, and elders in the temple clench their teeth.  You can see the exasperation on their faces.  Their expressions glowing red, they are thinking, “great! Just what we need—to listen to another parable”.  It is becoming apparent that every time this Jesus person opens his mouth we just look bad.

And really what exactly is up with this guy?  Just yesterday, he rides into the city stirring up dust, on that smelly colt, like he is some kind of wonderful.  The whole city was in turmoil, people were shouting Hosanna, Hosanna to the son of David.  They think he is the promised Messiah.  What a joke, what kind of a Messiah would he make?  Just look at who he hangs out with—prostitutes, tax collectors, those wretched disgusting diseased people.  I don’t know about you, but this isn’t the kind of king I am looking for.

And as if that’s not enough then he comes into the temple and starts chasing out the merchants, flipping over the tables of the money changers and the dove sellers.  There he is yelling, “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making into a den of robbers”.  Just who does he think he is?  His house!  Well if it is His house just how does he plan on paying the bills now that he has scared off all the income.  Who is this guy?

And then he just starts teaching.  We had to ask him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”   We should have known by then, not to expect a straight answer.  Instead of answering the question, he says, “Let me ask you a question, Did the baptism of John the Baptist come from heaven or was it of human origin?”  He knew we wouldn’t be able to answer.  If we would have said from heaven he would have said, “then why didn’t you believe him”, and we couldn’t have said, “from human origin”, because the crowd would have turned on us.  They believed John was one of the prophets.  Our only option was to say, “We don’t know”.  So then he refuses to tell us who gave him authority, and at that moment launches into his first parable.

I won’t retell you the whole parable, you heard it last week and the chief priests, Pharisees, and elders well—they heard it loud and clear too.  Jesus in not so many words told them that God needs followers, not admirers.  Told them that they were just a lot of hot air and clanging gongs; that they were good at moving their mouths but not so good at moving their feet.  Bringing us to today’s parable.

Hear the stinging words, “Listen to another parable”.

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower.  Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.

The landowner is God, the vineyard is creation and the tenants are the religious leaders.

When the harvest time had come he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.  But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.

The slaves are the prophets sent by God and this story shows how they have been mistreated and how their message has been ignored.

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 get his inheritance.” So they seized him threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Now whether you realize that this gospel account was written after Jesus death on the cross, or whether you believe this parable to have been told by Jesus who knew that he was on his way to the cross, the net effect is the same.  This parable clearly is pointing to the son as Jesus who will be rejected and crucified.  And this parable isn’t about outsiders or others who will reject and kill Jesus, it is directed at the religious leaders of the time.  This is an inside job.

And don’t we insiders today do the same?  Don’t we continue to choose religion over Jesus?  Don’t we refuse to upset the status quo?  Don’t we continue to insist that everyone believe what we believe, behave like we behave, look like we look?  Is that what Jesus asks us to do?  Ponder that for a moment while I turn back to the parable as Jesus asks a question.

“Now, when 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 lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”  Those that have killed the son, the sole heir to the vineyard will be put to a miserable death.  Sounds like a fitting judgement for those who reject Jesus doesn’t it?  We hear the parable and this makes sense to us.

And this is Jesus’ point.  This parable illustrates that we want those who don’t do the right things to be punished.  It’s only fair, it’s only fitting, it’s what needs to happen.  The kingdom of God is at hand and we had better shape up or be punished with a miserable death!

Only (and this is the important part), this answer doesn’t come from Jesus.  Jesus only asked the question.  The chief priests and elders gave the answer, and pretty quickly too.

And before we get all righteous on the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day, we need to be aware that when they gave this answer none of us even blinked.  We are so quick to judge.

But what really happened?  When those cries of the crowds shouting Hosanna, Hosanna to the son of David so quickly turned to cries of crucify him what happens.  When Jesus was rejected, beaten, tortured, and hung out to dry on that cross.  When the son was murdered, killed—what did our vineyard owner do?  Did God retaliate with a heavy hand of judgement condemning this broken humanity to a miserable death?  Is that how the greatest story ever told ends?

It doesn’t does it?  We know the story.  We have been telling it for over 2000 years.  God uses that broken tortured body to give us life, not death.  The price is paid.  The slate is wiped clean.  God gave up everything so that we could be made free.  Humanity is not condemned to a miserable death, but instead freely given everlasting life.    This amazing grace not vengeful judgement is our song!  And yet we must admit we don’t truly grasp it.  If we did would we be so quick to offer up judgement just like the chief priests and elders in the story?  If we really understood the love that is given to the loveless, wouldn’t we want to share it to?

Now not wanting to end on a word of judgement myself, although I must admit, that too is my human inclination.  I will finish with some words of good news.   And that good news is this—that in spite of what we do to hinder the kingdom of God, regardless of the fact that we don’t always produce the fruits of the kingdom.  And even though our actions aren’t always for justice and loving-kindness.  In the words of Jesus quoting the psalmist

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Even when we reject Jesus, the gospel does not collapse.  It is as firm as ever—and will not be moved.

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes!

The Hymn of the Day that followed . . .

This entry was posted in 2011 ELCIC Convention, Biblical Interpretation. Bookmark the permalink.

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