Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 22 (a)] October 4, 2020
33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
In the Name of Jesus.
Jesus wants us to know him as the giver of gifts. The giver of gifts: that sounds good. But our world does not expect that from a god.
If god is known for power, for law, for retribution, that our world can understand. The bad must be punished, the good must be rewarded—that’s the job of a god that our world can accept.
But a God who comes to give gifts? That God will be rejected.
Yet, Jesus wants us to know him as the giver of gifts. So he tells a strange parable. A parable that ends with Jesus saying,
“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”
Could a parable be more strange? A vineyard owner who leases his vineyard out to tenants, only to have them beat the servants he sends to them.
He only sent the servants to get from the tenants the produce they owed him, that’s normal enough. But they beat them.
He sends other servants, then more—they are stoned and killed.
What kind of vineyard owner acts like this? He should’ve sent the sheriff to throw the evil tenants in prison, but instead, he sends servants who can’t even defend themselves.
He should’ve been sending the army, he should’ve been using the full power of the state to overthrow the thugs. Instead, he sends more weak servants.
Then, his son. Not a hundred sheriff’s deputies, not a cohort of soldiers, not even a judge’s subpoena or warrant—he sends his son. Whom they kill.
At every point we would’ve expected the vineyard owner to act from strength, we would’ve been looking for him to come at them with power; but he comes with weakness. There is nothing weaker than giving your son over to be killed.
The parable is strange. But when Jesus closes it, he drives the point home:
“Therefore I tell you,”
“the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Now we see what Jesus is doing. He is crushing any attempt to live under the Law. Any hope for the sinner to justify himself, Jesus destroys it, as a falling stone destroys a man. We can hear the parable for just that, our Lord removing from us any hope of living under the Law.
Our sinful flesh and our attempt to justify ourselves? Jesus crushes that. By the words of this parable, he is preaching the Law to us in such a way that it puts our “old Adam,” our “old man of sinful flesh” to death in repentance.
Confession and Repentance. That’s the gift of this parable. Confession and Repentance, we remember, as the Catechism puts it, has two parts. The first part is that we confess our sin, that we admit that we are in sinful flesh and cannot justify ourselves.
Then the second part, the wonderful part that is pure gift, the Gospel part: that we receive the gift of Absolution, that we hear the gift of forgiveness, that we have faith in Jesus our justifier. That is, that we see God not in his power, not for his retribution—for even the priests Pharisees see God for that—but that we see him for his gifts.
That we see him as the vineyard owner who wants to act toward his evil tenants not in power and retribution, but in weakness, in the giving of gifts, in grace and mercy.
So the vineyard owner sends his own son to die. Will the Pharisees and priests hear Jesus’ message? Yes, they hear it. They hear it for the Law. Matthew 21:45:
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard [Jesus’] parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.
And Jesus was speaking about them. About them and about anyone who is trying to live under the Law, anyone who is trying to put others under the Law, anyone trying to use the Law to justify self. Jesus was speaking about them … and about us, as we try to justify ourselves in our own sinful flesh.
They heard Jesus for the Law. But they did not hear him for the Gospel. And the Gospel is the parable’s purpose. For the Gospel is always Jesus’ purpose.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified on behalf of the sinner; the Gospel of all sins forgiven; the Gospel of “you are saved not by works but by grace and that through the gift of faith”—the giving of the Gospel is always Jesus’ purpose, such that everything in the Church is ordered not toward showing people how to justify themselves under the Law, but toward the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus.
The priests and Pharisees, they heard the parable, but they heard it for the Law, not the Gospel.
And it is a parable of pure Gospel. For the innocent son who was killed by those who lived by power and retribution, he is the stone rejected by the builders. That’s the cross. That’s the priests and Pharisees accusing Jesus under the Law, and putting him to death on the cross—the rejected stone.
But the stone rejected by the builders, it has become the chief cornerstone, the stone upon which God builds his Church. That’s the cross and the resurrection, where the one rejected has become the Savior for all sinners.
But to those who reject, those who insist on justifying themselves, the cornerstone, that is, the One who died on the cross to atone for all sin, he becomes to them a crushing stone.
For, when we are trying to live under the Law, when we are trying to justify ourselves, when we are using the Law to accuse others, there is nothing more deadly than the proclamation that all sin has been taken up and dealt with by Jesus. Not by us, not by our efforts, not by our intentions, but by Jesus alone.
That is the Gospel. And that proclamation crushes our every attempt to be our own justifier, like a falling stone crushing a head.
But that is the Gospel.
We come to Jesus expecting a god who works toward us in power, who keeps us in debt under the Law, who is known for retribution. The bad must be punished, the good must be rewarded—that’s the job of a god, at least of a god our sinful flesh can accept.
But then we hear Jesus’ parable. And it is the God, the true God, who, though he has all power, comes in weakness, in order to suffer, in order to be put to death by those who want to live by the power of the Law.
And in the Son being put to death, we now are given to see the true God. The only God for the sinner to look at. The God who came not for retribution, but for grace.
Jesus wants us to know him as the giver of gifts.
So he daily crushes the old Adam of our sinful flesh, putting it to death by the hard stone of the Law.
So that, he daily gives life—daily, by the Gospel, creating the heart of faith, that the new Adam. This life of being justified by grace, is daily given life and made to stand before God in the righteousness and purity received as gift from Jesus.
In the Name of Jesus.