Text: Luke 20:9-20
The time for Jesus’ Passion is quickly approaching, and what better way to prepare for that than to tell parables? That’s what Jesus does here because that’s one of the chief ways of teaching the masses about Himself. But this parable isn’t necessarily a fan-favorite. This parable ends with death, not something that we enjoy hearing, but something that Jesus needed to say, a point He needed to make.
This parable involves a vineyard and a master who charged various tenants to manage it in his absence. One thing we know about the parables of Jesus is that there tends to be a problem or a teaching situation in them, and this one is no different. “When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.” At first glance, it seems that this is a stewardship parable, the master seeking to get some of his fruit which has been entrusted to the tenants. But as Jesus tells the parable, the master of the vineyard doesn’t get what is owed him. Sending a servant, he returns beaten and empty-handed. Sending a second servant, he returns beaten, shamefully treated and empty-handed. Sending a third, he returns wounded and cast out of the vineyard.
What is the master to do when his tenants refuse to give him a portion of the fruit due him? The vineyard does not belong to the tenants but rather to the master and they have treated him with great disservice through their actions to his servants who went on his behalf. The only sensible thing for him to do is to send his son: “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.”
It seems clear from what the master says that he is not entirely sure the tenants will listen and obey the son, and yet he sends him anyways. It is entirely possible that the tenants will recognize the son and do what is expected of them, but that’s not how Jesus tells the parable: “But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
Just like that, with no consideration of the master, the tenants become greedy and selfish and devise a plan to get that what they want at the expense of others. It seems as if Jesus might be telling this parable about certain someones, but I wonder who?
Luke tells us who those certain someones are – “The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people.” Jesus addresses the people but His words are aimed especially at the members of the Sanhedrin, the Scribes and Chief Priests, who hear what He says. Jesus addresses the people but is actually warning them about what their leaders will do. Their system, and it truly had become their system rather than God’s, is going to be destroyed.
The temple will be destroyed. Jerusalem will fall. The way that the Jewish leaders had thought everything would work out would fall apart. What they thought would be a comfortable life with them in charge would eventually come to an end. Their response: “Surely not!” Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He continues: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Jesus deliberately exaggerated the role of the evil tenants in order to show the awful abuses of the religious leaders down through the years. During various times in Israel’s history, they have worshipped false gods – even in the temple area. At times, they even offered human sacrifices. As far as the prophets were concerned, most of them spent the majority of their ministry behind bars and many of them died at the hands of those who should have honored them. Even the last of the great Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, lost his head to a ruler’s sword.
As unusual as the tenants are, the owner is even more so. His first servant returned with severe injuries and no fruit. What landowner would not immediately form a group to go after them and at the very least put the tenants in prison? Instead, this land owner sends servant after servant. Then, when the servants return beat up and bloody, he sent His son? Yet this owner sent his son knowing that he would most certainly die.
This is such a picture of God the Father. He patiently sent, not just three, but thousands of prophets to His people. He has every right to wipe us out for the sin we have committed, but He is patient with us instead, as the Apostle Peter wrote: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
God the Father has even sent His Son to a violent death like the owner in the parable. God, in His love for us, sent His only begotten Son to die for us in order that we might have a new life. Even as the wicked tenants threw the son outside the vineyard and then killed him so also the corrupt Jewish establishment sent Jesus out of town to die on a cross.
The death of Jesus had to be. His death was the payment for the world’s sin. Sinners treat God terribly with disrespect and irreverence. God gives them daily bread and they fail to be thankful. God gives them things to use in service to their neighbor, and they hoard it for themselves and use it to boast of their accomplishments. God gives them bodies and minds to be used for honorable purposes, and they misuse and pollute them both for temporary pleasure in self-destructive ways. That’s how sinners treat God. But that is not how God treats sinners. He gives us Jesus, for this is how God treats sinners: with patience, mercy and grace. He patiently waits. He continues to send His Word and preachers to proclaim it. He patiently showers you with forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments to keep you in the true faith, even as He patiently gives this dying world more time so that more might hear and be saved.
Jesus, who was the rejected stone, conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy life, His suffering, His death on a cross, and His resurrection from the dead. He is now the living cornerstone for me, for you and for all who believe. We have a Savior who suffered extreme rejection for us and is now alive. Jesus is the cornerstone that establishes the church forever. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.