”Listen to another parable” that’s how Jesus starts our lesson today. “Listen!” Listening is a critical life skill; I think you would agree. Those who aren’t good at listening can miss important details and directions that might benefit them in some way. For instance, I once heard this story about a man grumbling that his wife always thinks he isn’t listening, and he used this story as an example. He said, “The other day we were riding around in the car and I was thinking about a variety of things, when suddenly my wife touched my arm and she said, “Are you paying attention to me? I just don’t feel like you’re listening.” And I thought, “That’s a weird way to start a conversation.” The man wasn’t listening. His wife had been talking to him, but he tuned her out.
Today, God wants us to listen as he has a rather bizarre and unexpected story to tell us, a parable. And just look at this parable with me for a moment. It starts out fairly normal. A landowner plants a vineyard, he puts a wall around it, adds a winepress, and then looks to rent it out to some tenants. He finds some and come harvest time he sent some servants to collect his share from the land, some of the fruit. Simple enough, right? Yet, then it gets a bit bizarre. The tenants, the renters, seized the servants. We read that they “beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.”
Listen to what the owner does next, verse 36, “Then he, the owner, sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.” The owner of this vineyard, for whatever reason, seemed to think that if he sent enough servants these fine tenants of his, who had just wrecked and killed his first three servants, would suddenly have a change of heart and give him the fruit that was to be collected. Here is what actually happened: “The tenants treated them, these other servants, the same way.” Now, you’re probably thinking, “Why would the tenants do this?” Good question. But that’s not even the most unexpected part of this story.
What’s most unexpected is what the landowner decides to do after all of this, verse 37, “Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.” …they will respect my son…If you were listening to this parable, you would have to ask, if they had killed that 1st set of servants, and likely some of that 2nd set, why would you expect any better treatment for your son? Why would you send him?
I mean say I was acting principal of our school for a day and my wife came in to eat lunch with me and our secretary ran in while we were eating lunch to report that an unruly classroom had just beaten up one of our classroom teachers – yeah, I know, like this would happen at CTL, but bear with me – and so I sent, I don’t know, some other teachers to check on it and they got roughed up, so I sent some more and they too were beat up. Do you think at this point I would look at my wife and say, “Hon, would you mind going down there and checking out what’s going on?” Now, my wife is strong and rather feisty, but why would anyone do something like this? Why send one of the most precious people in your life into an extremely dangerous situation?
But that’s what this landowner did, and, if all this wasn’t already bizarre, look at the reasoning of these tenants as they saw the landowner’s son coming their way. “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” That’s just not how inheritance work, but that’s what they did. They killed the son. Bizarre, unexpected, but I bet you were listening. Jesus’ audience was, and now he wanted to know their thoughts on his story. He asked, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They replied, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” Would you agree that is what the landowner ought to do…”bring those wretches to a wretched end.” I think that would be fair.
Now, If you haven’t caught on yet, the landowner of this parable is God. He planted this vineyard. He made it good and safe. He did this willingly. And his tenants? His tenants were the religious leaders, the leaders of his’s people. And, in the past, when God sent prophet after prophet to them, like Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, and countless others, the leaders didn’t listen to those prophets. They didn’t offer up any fruits of faith; they lacked trust in those whom God sent. Instead, they treated those servants horribly. Yet, God didn’t stop trying. He patiently sought fruits of faith. Until, finally, he sent his Son. He sent Jesus
And here, now, was Jesus standing in front of an audience, a good number of whom were the religious leaders of that time, and Jesus was talking directly to them – he was warning them! Warning them not to be like their predecessors. Warning them not to think of themselves as too righteous or so morally advanced that they were fine, that they didn’t really need Jesus.
Check this out sometime in the Bible – it’s sad – how some of the people physically closest to God in the Bible were the furthest from him spiritually. That’s what we are seeing here, and it’s a warning for us. Look, it’s good that we are here in worship. It’s good if you read the Bible on your own and have devotions with others or by yourself, but if we’re hiding behind these things, if it’s a check list for you, if this is our way of feeling good and saved, we’re missing something. We are missing the very same person who stood there before the eyes of those religious leaders.
And, you know, it’s not that they didn’t know who Jesus was. In the parable, they clearly recognized the son as the heir, and they hated him. Why? Because he challenged their ownership of the field. Remember, those servants were hired by the landowner, but they were acting as if the vineyard belonged to them. The sinful nature inside of us wants to think the same – it’s all about control, see? We want to be the owner, not the tenant. And, honestly, the world reinforces this idea in us every single day: It’s my body. It’s my choice. It’s my truth. But, we like the sound of that too…mine! So, we find ourselves a lot like those tenants. We push away the messengers, and we push away the vineyard owner; we push God away.
Which brings me to this point…maybe look at it this way. What makes people think God is a God of love? Can we look out at life today and say, “Yep, look how loving God is this world is awesome. Things are great! Ha! Hardly.” Can we look at history and say, “Look at how peaceful and wonderful the past was. God is love!” If all you saw was this world, with its divisions and its problems and its sickness and its unfairness, and your conclusion was that God is love, that would be unexpected, bizarre even. That’s what makes this parable so powerful. This story shows just how bizarre and unexpected a God of love truly is. Because, honestly, what should God, that landowner, have done the moment that very first servant was abused by those tenants, by people like us? He should have brought us all to a wretched end. That’s fair. That’s right.
Instead, another servant, and another, and another, and finally, he sent his Son. Look, if we only focused on ourselves in this parable, this would all be horrible, but when we turn to the landowner, when we look to God and what he did, what he still does, we are overwhelmed. That landowner was no dummy, he knew how his past servants had been treated, and he knew how they would treat his Son too. Yet, he sent him.
And, now, here stood that Son, here stood Jesus, and he reached out. He loved! He pointed back to Scripture, to Psalm 118, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” “You’re rejecting me!” He was saying to those who were supposed to be his allies and biggest believers – but they didn’t listen! Instead some three days after this story was told, the supposed caretakers of God’s people, did just as Jesus said in the parable, and they took the heir, the Son, and killed him.
So, I guess my question today is, are you listening? Are you listening to this bizarre and unexpected story? Because it is a warning. A simple one, meant for religious people like us. And I’ll say it as simply as I can: You and I need a Savior too. We are sinners too. And our religion our presence here in this building, does not give us an excuse to quietly sin without consequence. But, I don’t want that warning to be all we hear today. That wasn’t the goal of Jesus’ story. No, his goal was to show you what this world could never show us, that God is love.
See that today. See the chance after chance after chance that God offers to sinners like you and me – see his patience! And see his Son, coming to you, not to punish, not to guilt, not to force you into submission, but to collect, to collect you to himself and be the foundation of your life and your faith. Jesus is the cornerstone upon which we build to produce real fruits of faith. Fruits of faith that rest on such solid ground that Satan and our sinful nature tremble at the very thought. May they always tremble and may your faith in Jesus never. God grant it. Amen.