Friday, March 22, 2013
Another parable... another but more urgent call to repentance. . .
Jesus wept over Jerusalem, He told stories of fruit trees without fruit and of wayward and lost sons. All along, predicting His coming death on the cross and issuing an ever more urgent call to repentance. No one wanted to heart about it. Now the call to repentance is even more pointed. It is parable of stark contrast and grave consequences. Today we pray it may not be lost to us. Without repentance, all that you count on as yours will be taken away.
Jesus tells a story about a vineyard. The owner of the vineyard is the Lord. It belongs to Him but He has given it out to tenants to manage. The tenants here represented the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking, all the while they were plotting His death. Remember that this was told just after Palm Sunday when the direction of Jesus' destiny was clearer than ever before. But before we write this off as mere history, remember that you and I are no less tenants. We are not owners of our lives but have been bought with a price that we who live might not live for ourselves but for Him who lived for us.
In a remarkable show of grace, the Lord sends prophets to collect what is His – not once, not twice, but three times. These represents the prophets who spoke "thus saith the Lord" to the people of God. A prophet's life was not worth much because the people knew how to silence those who said what the people did not want to hear. Jesus had already lamented the Jerusalem who killed the prophets sent to them. But the ears and hearts of the people were closed. They would not hear and would not receive the Word of the Lord.
Think here of the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man suffers in hell and fears for his family – just as complacent as he was. "Send them someone, give them a chance," he pleads. But they had all they needed. They had the Law. They had the prophets. Not even if someone were to rise from the dead would they be shaken from their unbelief. We have the Law. We have the prophets. We have Jesus risen from death. Are we shaken from unbelief or complacency? Have we repented and born in our lives the fruit of repentance?
The parable of the vineyard shows the remarkable generosity of the Lord who speaks the saving Word to His people over and over again. Most truly and finally is this generosity shown in the flesh and blood of His very own Son. In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now He has spoken by His Son. Yet even the Son finds rejection, rebellion, and retribution. Will Jesus find faith when He comes again?
The tenants, the people of God, cannot afford to ignore this call to repentance. They will find that the days swiftly pass until the day of mercy is over and the day of judgment is come. God is not in the business of scaring His people from hell into heaven but neither does He hide the somber consequences of our choice to reject His claim on us. In the parable, Jesus insists that the time for accounting has come. The owner of the vineyard refuses to walk away from what is His. God will not renounce His claim on us nor give up on His investment in us without a fight. The cost of our rejection and our rebellion is judgment. We lose all that we think is ours - eternally.
Jesus is the stone that holds up what God is building but crushes under its weight those who reject Him. That is the somber message we meet on our last weeks of Lent, in our journey to the cross, at this, the beginning of Passiontide. Those hearing Jesus clearly understood what He was saying but they rejected His Word. They refused to be tenants, refused God’s claim on them, refused His offer of mercy, and refused His call to repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Instead they believed they had time, power, and recourse.
Then there is this stinging word at the end of the Gospel for today. "They pretended to be sincere..." Surely this is our greatest temptation. If not to boldly reject the Word of God, to play with it as if it were not powerful. The call to faith and repentance is no pretense. This is not about giving the Lord what He wants but about trusting hearts and changed lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith is the heart moved to repentance by the Holy Spirit. Repentance is the anguish of confession in which we own the sins that condemn us. Grace is the shocking generosity in which the sins we own become the property of the Lord upon the cross. Transformed lives are the fruits of this faith and repentance taken seriously. Create in us clean hearts, O God... this prayer of the faithful is not pretense.
The charge against the unrighteous is that their lives are a pretense. They pretend to believe but reject the Lord's works and word. They pretend to be holy but refuse the holiness that is His gift in baptism. They pretend to be sincere but rebel against the faith and go their own way. They pretend to trust the Lord but live on their own strength. They pretend to belong but are strangers to the Lord's House and to the sound of His voice in His Word. They pretend to serve the Lord but claim as their own what is rightfully His.
This is the story of pretenders. And the God who never pretends. His grace is genuine. His mercy is the real deal. His Son has shown us this steadfast love that does not end. He gives us His Spirit that we might pretend no more but truly believe in Him, truly repent of our sins, truly rejoice in His forgiveness, and truly show forth in our lives the good fruits of that repentance, loving God by loving our neighbor. But Jesus cautions us. Neither does God pretend about judgment. So, as we enter Passiontide, the voice of the Lord calls us to pretend no more. Let us come to the Lord and return to Him what His Son has bought and paid for by His suffering and death... and to show forth in our lives the fruits of this repentance, loving God above all things and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.