Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
October 5, 2014, Pentecost XVII
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-15 Philippians 3:8-14, Matthew 21:33-46
From the book of the Prophet Isaiah:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry!
From The Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians:
Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; 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 nation producing the fruits of it.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
We now enter the fourth major section of Matthew’s Gospel, “The Rejection of the King.” In this section, the Lord Jesus revealed the sins of Israel and explained why the religious leaders rejected Him and His message.
In our Gospel reading this morning, the parable takes us once again to the vineyard. This parable is based on our Old Testament reading Isaiah 5:1-7. Jesus tells this very interesting and provocative story about a landowner and some farmers to whom he rented his land. In Jesus’ story, the landowner does all the work in the beginning. The land is his, and he plants a vineyard. He digs a winepress where the grapes can be trampled and the juice extracted. He builds a wall and a watchtower so the crop will be protected and guarded. Everything is in order for a great crop of grapes. The twist in the story is that the landowner then leases the vineyard out to a group of tenant farmers and goes away.
The landowner does not leave because of a lack of interest, for the tenants understand that he will return. However, he gives them a great deal of freedom and will not be there to watch over their every move. The farmers are simply to tend to the crop and the land, and when it is time, gives him his share of the harvest. It is a simple plan and everyone wins. The landowner gets what belongs to him, and the tenants are provided for and get what they have earned.
But the problem arises when there is a rebellion among the farmers against the landowner. There is no mention that he has treated them unfairly or has wronged them in any way. That is not the issue. The problem is that they get greedy. They no longer want to be tenants of the vineyard, they want to own it. They want it all – all the crop and all the land as well. So when the landowner sends his servants to collect his rightful share of the fruit, the tenants mistreat and beat the servants, even killing some of them. This happens several times until the landowner finally sends his son, expecting that they will respect him and give the landowner what is his due. But the farmers conspire even against the son. They say to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance. The land and the crops and everything else will be ours.” Then they took him outside the vineyard and killed him.
Let’s look at the parable piece by piece. What Jesus is doing is telling the world’s story and predicting His own death due to the rebellion of God’s creation. God is the landowner. He has made the world and everything in it. He planted all the trees and plants that give us food. He gives the world to us, and makes us His tenants. We are renters, stewards, not owners. However, we are provided for very well. But the landowner seems to be away on a journey somewhere. That is to say, God is out of sight. He is still the owner, even though it seems like He is not visibly present. We have been given a good world and a great deal of freedom. The land is fruitful and we are blessed to have been given the privilege of being tenants here. God has been good to us. But a problem has arisen.
A rebellion is fomenting among the tenants. We, first of all, want to claim the Master’s land and everything on it as our own, and want him to stay out of it. We abuse those who come and remind us that this world is not our own. We refuse to recognize God’s ownership of the world. Since the time that He appears to have gone on a journey, we have forgotten Him and gotten used to the idea that all of this is ours. And, secondly, we do not want to give to God what rightfully belongs to Him. So when God sent the prophets to call the people of the world to recognize God’s ownership and to give Him what He is due, we not only became hostile to God, we killed His messengers. As they say, “If you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.” This has happened throughout the history of the world, and is still happening now. In many places of the world today (especially the Middle East), to preach the good news of Jesus openly is to face the possibility of imprisonment or even death.
But God was serious about having His ownership recognized and acknowledged. In the end, He sent His Son to call the world to acknowledge the kingdom of God and recognize that God is the King of that kingdom. But we rejected God, and we rejected God’s Son. We treated Him worse than the prophets who went before him. We took Him outside of the gates of Jerusalem and killed Him. We do not want to be held accountable to anyone but ourselves. We don’t want someone telling us what to do, or what kind of people we ought to be, even if that someone is God. As far as we are concerned the world belongs to us, and we convince ourselves that He may not exist after all. Our lives belong to us. We want to be free. In our thinking, to be free means to be free from God and free from any rules. We say “it is my body and my choice. It doesn’t matter if the baby within me wants to live.” We want sex as recreation, instead of creation and commitment. We forget that the Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world, and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
This is a story of our Christ-rejecting world. It is how we treat the Landowner. And the interesting thing is that, it is the religious folk who reject Jesus, and the people, follow like sheep. The Bible says that the Pharisees knew that He was talking about them. Even in the arena of religion God is not welcome. He is too radical. He is too awesome. His person and power are overwhelming. We prefer a god we can understand, control, and even manipulate.
This is a story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The parable of Jesus begins here where they are the tenants of the world God has made. They live in a wonderful garden paradise. But He goes away for awhile and they are easily convinced that is not enough to be a tenant. It is not enough to be a friend of God, they want to be God. Like them, we begin to question the goodness of God, and we want to taste our independence. We begin to look around us and we decide we want to be in control. We throw off the control of God and cast aside restraint. We stop worshiping the Creator and begin worshiping creation. We kill the Giver and take His gifts. We claim the vineyard as our own.
One of the interesting things about the parable is that the landowner does not demand everything, He only asks His share. He would have treated the tenants fairly, more than fairly, but they did not want equity, they wanted it all. God has been rejected and His Son has been killed. They have been thrown out. But Jesus quoted the scripture that said, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22-23); Matthew 21:42). So Jesus gives us the real end of the story. It does not end in defeat, but victory. The very stone, this One who has been rejected and killed outside the city, will return and become the foundation of a new kingdom. The end of the story is found in the book of Revelation: “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15).
And this cornerstone, this Rock of Ages, there are only two ways of approaching it – falling on it, or having it fall on you. Jesus said, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Matthew 21:44). Fall on it and you will be broken to pieces. Have it fall on you and you will be crushed. Fall on it and your pride, your stubbornness, your self-will shall be broken to pieces.
You will have to come in humility and submission, recognizing that the world and everything in it, including your personal life, are the property of God. You will have to acknowledge His ownership and give Him what He is due. That is one approach. The only other approach is to resist and ultimately have the rock fall on you and crush you – that is what it will be like at the judgment.
The Pharisees told Jesus what they thought the landowner in the parable would do to those who refused to recognize his leadership and kill his son: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death” (Matthew 21:41). They felt he would kill them as they had killed his son. But God, the real Landowner, would do the exact opposite. He would use the death of His Son as an atoning sacrifice so that He might forgive the rebels and ultimately give them a land that was beyond anything they had ever known. The Bible says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32).
This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one
God, forever and ever. Amen. †