Fifth Sunday in Lent [c] April 3, 2022
9 And [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 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. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 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.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 19 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. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.
In the Name of Jesus.
Would we think it would be good news if Jesus said to us, “I am the stone which falls on your head and crushes you”?
Jesus speaks this parable for us. He loves us and cares for us. He tells this parable to tell us just that: “I am the stone you rejected, which falls on you and crushes you”—but this is your salvation!
If we don’t hear the parable for that, then we don’t get the parable.
That’s how parables are hard. The first way we hear them is the way of the Law.
The first way we hear a parable is the way of using the parable to tell us how to live better. We hear it as instruction, as motivation for better living.
The first way we hear a parable is as a little moral story telling us how to change our lives, how to improve, how to have better fruits in our lives.
But in hearing a parable in that way, we are hearing it actually not as a parable, but as a fable, as a folklore story, an allegory, telling us how to live. Which means, we are hearing it as Law.
But Jesus didn’t come to give us the Law. We already had the Law through Moses. Jesus came to give us the Gospel. He is the Gospel. The Law accuses, it shows us our sin. Jesus forgives, he cleanses our conscience.
Jesus tells us the parable, then, to proclaim his cross, to forgive our sin, to cleanse our conscience.
If we are hearing the parables as what we must do, as moral teachings of how to bear fruit, then we are hearing them as Law, which means we don’t need Jesus to tell them, because we already had the Law.
The Gospel is good news, it is freedom from the Law, freedom in Christ—it is the free gift of grace.
So how is Jesus as the stone the builders rejected but now become the cornerstone which crushes you the good news of the forgiveness of sins and freedom from the accusation of the Law? Luke 20:9:
And [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 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.”
Jesus continues the parable. The vineyard owner sends another servant to the tenants; they beat him. Then the vineyard owner sends another, and the tenants beat and wound him. Finally, in a move that makes no sense at all, the vineyard owner sends his own beloved son. They kill the son.
This makes zero sense. First, it makes no sense that the vineyard owner would send his beloved son after they had already beat his previous three servants. How would the vineyard owner even think, “Perhaps they will respect my beloved son”? Why should he think anything like that?
Second, it makes zero sense that the tenants would say, “Let’s kill the son. He’s the heir. If we kill him, the inheritance will be ours.” How in the history of the world have inheritance laws ever said that if you murder a man’s son you get the inheritance?
None of it makes sense.
Until we realize that Jesus is not telling a fable, he’s not giving a moral folktale of how to live. Rather, he’s proclaiming himself to the sinner. The parable is the Word Jesus is speaking to crush the sinner in his sin and then to raise up the sinner, cleansed and restored, to new life.
The parable gives us this: when the Savior comes, he comes as the most unexpected, unwelcome, unacceptable person of all.
Sinners want to live by the Law. All of us in our sinful flesh want to live by the Law. That is to say, we want to justify ourselves by the Law.
Even when guilty of the Law, we try to use the Law to figure out what we need to do to clean ourselves up, what we need to do to produce fruits acceptable to God.
So when the Savior comes and says, That Law you are trying to use to justify yourself, it will not justify you, but it will crush you as a man crushed under a stone. The Savior is letting us know, Be done with the Law, be done with trying to tell me you want to be known by your fruits, be done with your self-justification, and, instead, look to me.
I am the unacceptable one, coming as beloved son of a vineyard owner to tenants who want to steal the vineyard. I am the one coming not in expected strength, but in weakness, the weakness of a beloved son vulnerable at the hands of the tenants. I am the one coming to you not in the strength of your so-called victorious Christian life producing good fruits for all to see (for all of that is Law), but coming to you in the lowliness and weakness of a Word preached into your ears.
Coming to you in the lowliness and weakness of water poured on you with the promise of my Name, coming to you in the lowliness and weakness of bread and wine given you, by which I am giving you my Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.
I am the coming to you, Jesus is saying, and while you reject my coming to you in my Gospel in only lowliness and weakness, in rejecting me, you are as the builder rejecting the stone which the builder finds unacceptable.
But that rejected stone, it is me, the cornerstone.
And the cornerstone crushes you daily, daily putting to death your sinful flesh, your old Adam. But that is good news.
For your sinful flesh, your old Adam, was never going to live anyway, and was never going to produce good fruit, never going to be able to justify self.
So now, Look at me, Jesus is telling us. Look at me and see your cornerstone. It crushes with the Law, but raises you up, daily giving you life, by forgiving you your sin, by justifying you not by your works but by my grace, building you up as stones of the living temple.
Those hearing Jesus would’ve heard this. Because when Jesus takes this title, “The Cornerstone,” he takes it from Psalm 118. They would’ve memorized this Psalm. They have chanted it many times in the Temple. Psalm 118:22:
The stone the builders rejected
Has become the cornerstone.
But the Psalm verse right before that proclaims who the cornerstone is. Psalm 118:21:
For You [O Lord,] have answered me,
And have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
Has become the cornerstone.
So we hear the parable. We let it have its way with us. We let it accuse us of the sin of rejecting the Savior, choosing to try to justify ourselves by the Law.
In that, the parable crushes us like a stone. But that is just where Jesus wants us. For having crushed us by the Law, he then, as the Psalm says, becomes our salvation, our stone rejected by the builders who is now the cornerstone.
Crushed by the Law, we hear Jesus telling us this parable as our cornerstone who makes us alive by the Gospel, by the word of forgiveness. For that is what it means for the cornerstone to be, as the Psalm says, our Savior.
In the Name of Jesus.