Sermon preached for Lent 5C, by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich, on Sunday, March 13, 2016.
Jesus asked, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” (Lk 20:15b).
Rejection and refusal, turning away those sent to us. Does this sound familiar? Just a few short weeks ago we heard Christ's lament over Jerusalem rejection. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it” (Lk 13:34). Today, Jesus again teaches about rejection, with the parable of the wicked tenants.
I.A. Christ was in the temple teaching the people and preaching the gospel, and the chief priests and scribes came to him. They asked Him by what authority was He doing this. Christ responded to this question as He often did by asking them a question, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Lk 20:4). The religious leaders, refused to answer this question because no matter how they answered, they’d be challenged, by Christ or the people. Because the chief priests and the scribes didn’t answer His question, Jesus didn’t answer theirs. Instead, He spoke this parable to the people.
Like most of Jesus’ parables, this one is full of unthinkable events. A man plants a vineyard, and then he goes away, leasing the property out to tenants. This isn’t an unthinkable event, but what follows this is. When it came time to harvest the fruit of the vineyard, the owner sent a servant to collect his portion. But the tenants refused. They sent him away empty handed. But they added injury to this insult; they beat the servant. The owner sent two more servants, and the evil tenants did the same thing, beating them, shaming them, and sending them away without the owner’s produce.
Finally, the owner sent his beloved son, thinking that the tenants would respect him more, but this didn’t change a thing. The tenants still refused to hand the fruit over and they treated the son worse than the servants. They didn’t stop with just beating him, they went all the way, killing the man. They murdered the owner’s heir thinking that they would inherit the vineyard.
As the name of this parable says, these men were wicked. They reneged on their contract. Legally, they were required to give the owner a portion of the produce, but they didn’t honor this contract. They responded with violence: beating 3 servants and murdering the owner’s son. These tenants rightly deserved to be destroyed and have the vineyard taken from them, given to others. This makes sense. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. All of us here today would punish these men to the full extent of the law, taking back what is rightly ours...and we’d enjoy it.
B. When the chief priests and the scribes heard this parable, they sought to lay hands on Jesus, to take Him by force and harm Him, because they thought this parable was spoken against them. Ironically, they sought to be like the wicked tenants because they thought Jesus called them wicked tenants. The wanted to violently reject the Son.
However, this parable isn’t exclusively against the religious leaders of that day. It’s also a parable against the people...against us. We’re the wicked tenants. We renege on what is expected of us. We’re God’s creation and we’re to live as such. He comes to us, expecting us to hand over the fruit that is due to Him: works of obedience and service in our vocation, faith in Him and trust in His Word, and repentance for our sin. But we don’t produce. We don’t hand this fruit over. Instead, we’re wicked, acting as the tenants. We send God away, wanting to fulfill our own desires, doing what we want, what makes us feel good at that moment. We send God’s servants away, those who proclaim His Word, shaming them, beating them down because we don’t like what they have to say. And we throw the beloved Son out, having killed Him with our sin.
II.A. At the end of the parable, Jesus asked the people, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Lk 20:15b-16). This is the rational thing to do. This is what makes sense, what we expect him to do. This is the just thing, an eye for an eye. Justice demands retribution, a repayment like for like. It demands the destruction of the tenants. It demands our destruction, our death.
But this is the complete opposite of what God, the owner does. He acts contrary to expectations. Instead of destroying us for not handing over fruit, instead of killing us for our wicked treatment of His servants, and the murder of the Son, He uses the rejection on death of the Son to redeem you and me.
Christ said, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Lk 20:17 & Mt 21:42). With these words quoted from Psalm 118, and with this parable, Christ is foreshadowing His own rejection and death on the cross. And it’s this rejection and death that is the cornerstone, the foundation of your salvation.
God the owner of the vineyard, uses the death of Christ, His beloved Son, to redeem you and me, wicked and unworthy tenants. Even though we deserve destruction, we don’t receive it. Completely out of God’s grace and mercy, He uses the death of Christ to save you. He redeems you, He buys you back with Jesus’ blood and makes you worthy of the vineyard, of everlasting life. This redemption is only accessible through faith, faith that God gives to you in the hearing of His Word, in the Waters of Baptism, and in the eating and drinking of the Jesus’ body and blood.
With this faith, you receive the blessings and benefits of the beloved Son’s death. You are made a child of God, and an inheritor of the vineyard. You’re given forgiveness of sins, a life full of God’s grace and mercy. You’re given an everlasting life, salvation built on Christ’s death and death defeating resurrection. All of these gifts are undeserved, but they’re given to you freely from the unending love of God. And all we can do is stand in faithful awe, in repentance, because this is marvelous in our eyes. We can’t understand it. It’s grace that doesn’t make sense to us. It’s illogical, and yet it’s true. God, the owner of the vineyard, gives you the vineyard because His beloved Son died on the cross.
Rejection and refusal, that’s what we do. We’re the wicked tenants who’ve refused God, the owner of the vineyard. In our sin we’ve denied His Word and acted wickedly toward others. We haven’t given Him the fruit that He requires. But wondrously, He doesn’t destroy us, even though this is what justice and logic demands. Instead, He sent His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to be the cornerstone of your salvation. His death is the foundation, and with it, God redeemed you. He turned you from a wicked tenant into a worthy child, and He gives you the inheritance of the vineyard, everlasting life. In Jesus’ name...Amen.