The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. 34 And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35 And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37 But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers? 41 They said to Him, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.’ 42 Jesus said to them, ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures, THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES? 43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.” (NASB)
This morning’s Gospel lesson is a continuation of the same conversation that began last week between Jesus and the chief priests and scribes of the temple. Just to refresh your memory, the events of Matthew 21 took place on Monday after Palm Sunday. After arriving in Jerusalem on Sunday, Jesus went to the temple and for the second time in His earthly ministry, He turned over the money changers tables and drove them out. He did that the beginning of His earthly ministry and here at the end.
On Monday He went to the temple again, but this time the priests and elders were ready for Him. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
The question led to the Parable of the two sons, which we read and I preached on last week. One son honored his father with his words, “yes father I will go and work in the vineyard, but then ran off to please and serve himself. The other disobeyed in words, “I will not go and work,” then regretted it and did as his father had commanded. The reading last week ended with Jesus saying in verse 32, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you.’”
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the priests and elders were offended. The religious leaders of the day thought of themselves as the “holiest of the holy people.” In their mind there they were God’s own and His favorite. In the Parable of the Two Sons, Jesus compared the priests and elders to a disobedient son, who served God with their lips, but whose hearts were far away from his father.
Jesus wasn’t finished. The situation was worse than the priest and elders thought. Jesus told them, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey.
Both parables invoked an Old Testament metaphor that would have been very familiar, not only to the priests and elders, but to every Jew standing in that temple. One of those Old Testament metaphors is contained in the assigned Old Testament lesson for this morning, Isaiah 5:1-7. When Jesus used the image of the vineyard, everyone understood that He was talking about the Old Testament Church, which bore the name called Israel.
As you know some parables are hard to understand and some are just bluntly clear. This morning’s belongs to the latter.
- The landowner is God the Father, Who entrusted what was His to people who are suppose to work it and give Him what is rightfully His.
- The vineyard is the kingdom of heaven on earth, the church.
- The tenants are the religious leaders of the day who sit on the seat of Moses and who are suppose to prepare the people for the coming Messiah.
- The wall, the winepress, and the watchtower are the temple, worship services ordered and organized by God Himself, and its sacrificial system which has been established to atone for sins.
- The two groups of servants who were sent by the landowern to collect what belongs to Him are the Old Testament prophets, who were ignored, mocked, and sometimes put to death by the leaders of Israel.
- The Son of the landowner is of course Christ.
- The nation to whom the vineyard, the kingdom of heaven will be given is the Gentiles who ultimately populated the New Testament Church. In other words, you. You are the nation who have been entrusted with the words of God, with the Law and Gospel, with the sacraments, the office of ministry, and the divine service.
In the parable the landowner provided the tenants everything needed. He spared no expense. But the tenants turned out to be self-serving thieves. They were all about what they wanted. They were all about what they could get and keep for themselves. They sent nothing the owner. So the owner sent some of his servants to them to collect his share of the harvest. “And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third.”
Jesus constructs the parable in such a way as to show just how patient the landowner is. He doesn’t head off the local governor or military commander to ask for the military to evict to arrest and punish the tenants. He did a rather odd thing. He sent a second delegation “and they did the same thing to them.”
Then the landowner does something that is beyond reason. Having sent two delegations and having both groups beaten and some of their members killed, “he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’ And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
None of us would have done such a thing. As you all know, I am a father from the old school. I spent my life telling my sons to “man up.” If I were found in the similar situation to what this landowner and father had, I wouldn’t seen my sons into the middle of this mod. And you wouldn’t do that either. You would not have been patient with murdering scoundrels like this. We would have brought the full weight of the law against those murdering thieves at the first offense.
Jesus is not teaching you that you are to send your employees, friends, and family to their deaths so you can collect some money. This parable, as is true of all parables is teaching us just what kind of God we have and what kind of people we can be and what kind of people there are both inside and outside the visible church.
This parable ought to teach people how to read and interpret parables. Jesus did not tell parables for the purpose of teaching us how to behave so that we keep the law and make God happy. One wonders where the “What Would Jesus Do” crowd is on this parable. How many of them would behave the way the landowner does here.
Jesus’s parables teach us how it is that God behaves toward us and how we fail to love God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Parables teach us about our sin and the grace of God in Jesus.
In the parable the workers take the son of the owner outside the wall of the vineyard and kill him there. They do this because Levitical law specified that unclean persons and things must remain outside the city. To shed the blood of the son inside the walls and watchtower of the vineyard, would have made the whole vineyard unclean.
In the same way when Jesus Christ was crucified, He had to be crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem for “He Who knew no sin became sin for us.” As the ultimate outcast, He would be deemed unclean as He bore the sin of the world, driven outside the walls by evil men, and forsaken by God the Father.
On the one hand this parable is a parable of law and judgment against those who have highjacked the doctrine, preaching, worship, and service of the Christian church, which is exactly what the chief priests, Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and elders had done. They taught a religion of law and of works righteousness.
The audience that first heard this parable knew exactly what Jesus meant. In fact they knew this story already. It is the story in the Old Testament. God the Father described His Old Testament people as a vineyard. He freed them from slavery and planted them in the promised land. He gave them everything they needed. Not just daily bread, but His Word, His temple, the worship service, and the sacrifices. He came back to look for good grapes, but His vineyard yielded only bad fruit. Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
After telling the parable Jesus asked the priests and elders a rhetorical question. “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” Everyone knew the answer, including the priests and elders, who were already working on a plan to crucify the Son of God.
They all knew the answer, but Jesus wanted to make sure there would be no misunderstanding regarding the Law or the Gospel. “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES?’ Jesus knows what they are planning. He knows Good Friday is just around the corner. He also knows Easter morning follows. That which they mean for evil, God will use for good. They are rejecting God’s Word in all of His forms, written, spoken, sacramental, and the en-fleshed Word Jesus Christ.
So Jesus tells them: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.”
Jesus is the Son. He has come to collect what is owed His patient heavenly Father. He once had said, “He who hears Me hears the Father Who sent Me.” “My Father and I are one.”
Last and this week’s parable is both a warning to all and a comfort those of us who fall to sin daily, but who return to the vineyard, the church time and time again to offer our confession of sin and receive God’s forgiveness, His holy absolution. Lots of groups and organizations, the government itself feed, clothe, and house the poor. The church’s chief function is forgive the sins of those who grieve, are guilt ridden, confess, and trust in Christ for salvation.
The Church is His not ours to do with as we please. That is what the evil men in the parable did. St. Paul wrote in 2 Thess. “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” and Again, in 1 Cor. 11:2 “hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.”
The Stone the builders rejected has become the Chief Cornerstone. God the Father took the evil plan ever conceived by men and the devil and redeemed and used to save you from your sin.
He has also given everything we need, His Son, the gift of faith, and all the good works faith produces to you, me, and to this little congregation. He has given Himself. His own person. His shed blood. His glorious resurrection. His life giving Water in Holy Baptism. His body and blood given for you for the remission of sin. Your sins are forgiven.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.