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On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He went straight to the Temple and drove out the money changers and merchants saying, “MY house shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.” After that, Luke tells us that “He was DAILY, teaching in the temple.” (Luke 19)
Luke writes, “One day, it was either Tuesday or Wednesday, as he was teaching the people, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, ‘Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who is it that gave you this authority.” ‘Who do you think you are acting as if you own this city?’ ‘Who do you think you are acting as if the Temple belonged to you?”
II. The Creation of the Vineyard and the Workers.
“And he began to tell the people this parable: “A certain man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went away for a long time.”
IN THE BEGINNING, there was “a certain man.” Before there was a vineyard and tenants, there was only “a certain man.” In time, this certain man planted a vineyard. He tilled the soil, planted the seeds, watered and fertilized each and every little shoot, nurtured them along until the vines produced a rich harvest of grapes and the grapes made the finest of wines. It belongs to Him because He made it.
ONLY THEN does He bring in workers to work in HIS vineyard. The workers come late in the story.
Their problem as we will soon see, which is also our problem, is that they have no appreciation for history. They think that the world began on the day they were born; and that this vineyard was nothing until they showed up and made it SUCCESSFUL. Oh, how lucky for the Owner that they came to work in this vineyard.
They hardly recall how “a certain man” showed up one day while they were lost, while their days were filled with ‘angry birds,’ and a computer screen and ‘shopping’ and said, ‘come, follow me. I have something very special and dear to me that I want to make you a part of.’
Only then does this “certain man” “go away for a long time.” It’s not that He doesn’t care about His vineyard. ‘SURELY NOT!’ He didn’t ABANDON his vineyard. He ENTRUSTED it to those whom He brought into it. What an honor!
What these workers don’t seem to understand, and neither do we, is that this “certain man” actually created this vineyard FOR THEM, FOR THEIR BENEFIT. It wasn’t that He needed it or the grapes that it produces. What’s one more piece of prime real estate to someone who already owns the whole Monopoly board?
He created the vineyard as an ideal place for Him to bring men and women, boys and girls to live and move and have their being under His care and provision for their life. That each and every day they may find joy and fulfillment in life and give thanks to that ‘certain man’ who created it and brought them into it and gave them a responsibility in it. HE BLESSED THEM BY GIVING THEM WORK TO DO IN HIS VINEYARD.
III. The Master Sends Servants
“When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.”
Something is clearly not right here. It doesn’t matter if you are one of the “chief priests, scribes and elders of the people,’ or one of the adoring throng that welcomed Jesus into the city, everyone agrees, this is clearly an inappropriate and unacceptable response.
Have they forgotten to whom this vineyard really belongs to? Have they no appreciation for all that the Owner has done for them? Are they actually trying to say that the Owner has no AUTHORITY to come to His Vineyard to receive some of the fruit? Has He no right to share in the JOY which He has created for them?
Okay, so they screwed up. But everyone deserves a second chance, right? So Jesus adds, “And He sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out.”
IV. What’s Wrong With These Tenants?
What’s wrong with these tenants? Why do they respond like this to the perfectly reasonable expectations of the Owner? What employee of any company or organization would respond to the owner or his immediate supervisor like this? No one in their right mind would presume to act like this at work.
But Jesus’ point is that this is precisely the way that we act towards God, and not just on a rare occasion, but time after time after time.
So what’s going on here? How do we understand this so that we might ‘REPENT?’ And not just with empty words but with understanding of just what it is that we are turning away from and RE-turning to?
Let’s just try this on for size and see how it fits.
Because we have either forgotten or because we have allowed science to discredit the Creation account in Genesis, we no longer believe that “a certain man” made everything, long before He brought men and women into it to work it and care for it.
And because we have either deliberately or ignorantly chosen to ignore history, that long, long story that tells of all of the investment and hard work that went before us, and that is deeply woven into the fabric of our entire life, we fail to understand and appreciate that all that we have is far more of an ‘INHERITANCE’ than an ‘ACCOMPLISHMENT’ that we, and we alone are responsible for.
These tenants could see no further than the WORK WHICH THEIR HANDS HAD PRODUCED. So they not only feel no obligation to the Owner, but they also deeply resent His demand on what THEY HAVE MADE.
But maybe we can push this a little harder. What is it that we claim ‘BELONGS TO US?’ Isn’t it just those things that are good and pleasant and successful and profitable? Why is it good and pleasant and why is this project and enterprise that I have put my hand to so successful? It’s because of what I HAVE DONE, and the GIFTS THAT I POSSESS, and the SWEAT OF MY BROW that I have poured into it.
But what about those things that ALSO COME FROM OUR HANDS, but that are not so good or pleasant or that are utter failures and a totally loss? Aren’t those the things that we lay no claim to at all? These things are all THE FAULT OF THE BROKEN HOME IN WHICH I WAS RAISED, or THE ECONOMY, or THE GOVERNMENT and its bad programs, or “the woman whom you gave to me, she gave me fruit and I ate.” These are not the work of my hands at all.
But isn’t it totally amazing how all of this gets turned completely around when we begin to see things through Jesus Christ and His cross? Isn’t it Jesus, who gives to the Owner, who is God the Father, all that the Owner expects to receive from His vineyard; on behalf of the Tenants, in their name?
I know that some are bothered by the idea that the formula for our atonement should center on a PAYMENT to the Father by the Son. But isn’t this just what Jesus does? He is paying what we owe to the Father. BECAUSE WE WOULD NOT.
And doesn’t this just change everything for us. Doesn’t this just turn everything completely around? Now, through Jesus, we learn to give thanks for everything that is good and pleasant and successful. And conversely, for everything that comes from our hands that is bad and obnoxious before God, we say, “this is my doing. I am responsible for this.”
But for the sake of Your Son and in light of the price that He has paid on my behalf, “Cast me not out of YOUR VINEYARD or take your Holy Spirit from me.” And the Owner joyfully replies “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Is.43:1).
When we see things through Jesus and His cross, we see that when the servant comes asking for “some fruit of the vineyard,” HE COMES TO COLLECT OUR SINS AND OUR FAILURES AND EVERYTHING THAT HE HAS ENTRUSTED TO US THAT HAS TURNED BAD AND GONE WRONG IN OUR HANDS. He comes to wash it in His baptismal grace and purify it in His blood, which is more precious than anything our hands ever have or ever will accomplish.
Now, instead of counting everything as MINE and of such surpassing worth that we refuse to give over what the Owner expects from us, “[We] count everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” (Phil. 3:8).
But the poor tenants in our story had no comprehension of this. For them, the Owner was a thief attempting to break into their house and steal their possessions. “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who is it that gave you this authority.”
V. The Owner Sends His Son.
And so for their sake, Jesus pushes the story further. As Jesus portrays the Owner, He pushes the level of His patience and persistence with these wicked tenants to the point of absurdity. “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.”
Just when we would expect the Owner to put his foot down and say, ‘enough is enough,’ (and who would disagree with Him if He did?), instead He shows MORE LOVE and GREATER LOVE. For God LOVED THE WORLD SO MUCH, that He sent His Son…” (Rom.3:16).
In this marvelous story that we can only scratch the surface of in a 20 minute sermon, Jesus is opening the window on the divine love of the Triune God for sinners. For the chief priests and scribes and elders, and if for them, certainly also for us.
And what is it that we learn about the character of God in this parable? Isn’t it just that when we would expect justice, God comes with more love.
The thing that we dare not miss here is that there has been no invitation from the tenants to the owner for a meeting to work things out. I know that we are fond of saying things like, ‘if we confess, then God will forgive our sins’ as of to say, God is not unfair in this. If we make the first move, He will respond.
But in this story, that doesn’t work. God comes to His wicked tenants before there is any peep of confession from their lips.
We apply the principle for which we MISTAKENLY believe that God operates with us to the way that we operate with one another. It’s not that we’re all that opposed to loving our neighbor. We’re not that wicked. It’s just that there needs to be some fairness involved. ‘If he says, ‘I’m sorry,’ I’ll forgive him.’ ‘If she only admits her problem, I’d be more patient and understanding with her.’ ‘But it goes both ways.’
But that’s not the way this story goes at all. The shock of this story is how the Owner breaks all the rule of justice for the sake of mercy and love. Rather than retaliating and fighting fire with fire, He comes in peace, TOTALLY VULNERABLE, willing to be burnt if it comes to that, but determined to break through the resistance and restore the relationship that we have broken.
And because God has done this for us, now we have been set free to do likewise; that is, to take the initiative, to make the first move, to set aside justice and act in love FOR THE ONE WHOM GOD SO LOVES.
And if we will not do this, if we refuse to take the risk and make the first move IN LOVE, WITH FORGIVENESS, what will we ever say to Jesus who did just that with us?
IN FACT, COULD IT BE THAT THIS IS THE FRUIT THAT THE OWNER HAS COME TO COLLECT FROM HIS TENANTS?
If we do not make use of the love and forgiveness that God has given to us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit; if we do not use this gift of divine love that we have been given to bring ‘new beginnings’ to our broken relationships with others; then this story will end poorly, in judgment.
What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.
To this, we can only pray as they did, “Surely not!”