The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Matthew 21:33-46

 

THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY CONTINUES WITH THE LEADERS OF THE TEMPLE QUESTIONING JESUS’ AUTHORITY TO HAVE TURNED OVER THE TABLES OF THE MONEY CHANGERS AND HIS TEACHING ON THE TEMPLE GROUNDS. THEY CONSIDERED HIM TO BE NO MORE THAN A “HICK” FROM GALILEE, A REGION THAT WAS NOT RITUALLY PURE IN THE EYES OF THE RIGHTEOUS SADDUCEES AND PHARISEES. LAST WEEK, IF YOU WILL RECALL, HE TOLD THEM THE LITTLE PARABLE OF THE MAN WHO ASKED HIS SONS TO WORK IN HIS VINEYARD; THE FIRST SAID HE WOULD, BUT DIDN’T, AND THE SECOND WHO REFUSED, BUT THEN DID. NOW, HE TELLS THEM ANOTHER PARABLE, WHICH REALLY DRIVES HOME THE POINT OF WHAT HE HAD JUST TOLD THEM. ONE HAS TO BE CAREFUL WITH THIS PARABLE, BECAUSE A SLOPPY READING CAN LEAD TO AN ANTI-SEMETIC INTERPRETATION, WHICH HAS BEEN THE HISTORICAL CASE. LUTHER ONCE REMARKED THAT ONE SOMETIMES HAS TO SQUEEZE THE SCRIPTURES HARD TO GET THE JUICE OF THE GOSPEL OUT OF IT. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE PASSAGES.

THE IDEA OF AN ABSENTEE LANDLORD WOULD HAVE BEEN ALL TOO COMMON IN FIRST CENTURY JUDEA. UNDER THE ROMAN OCCUPATION, MANY OF THE SMALL FAMILY PLOTS WERE BOUGHT UP BY THE RICH, DISPLACING THE ORIGINAL OWNERS, AND COMBINED TO MAKE A MORE PROFITABLE HOLDING. WORKERS WOULD HAVE BEEN HIRED TO TEND THE CROPS, AND WOULD OWE THE LANDLORD A MAJOR PORTION AT THE HARVEST. WHILE JESUS DID NOT DIRECTLY IMPLY THIS, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN ASSUMED BY BOTH THE POOR PEOPLE WHO HEARD HIM, AND THE RICH LEADERS OF THE TEMPLE, SINCE THEIR WEALTH, PROBABLY GAINED IN THIS WAY, ENABLED THEM TO CARRY OUT THEIR TEMPLE DUTIES IN ECONOMIC SECURITY. SO, THE POOR WOULD HAVE TAKEN ONE MEANING FROM IT, THE TEMPLE LEADERS ANOTHER, AND THEN THE MEANING THAT JESUS INTENDED.

WHEN THE OWNER SENT HIS SLAVES TO COLLECT HIS PRODUCE AND THE TENANTS BEAT AND KILLED THEM, THE POOR PEOPLE LISTENING TO JESUS MUST HAVE SMIRKED, AND THE TEMPLE LEADERS MUST HAVE BEEN OUTRAGED. WHEN IT HAPPENED A SECOND TIME, THE POOR MUST HAVE TOUGHT IT JUSTICE AT LAST, AND THE TEMPLE LEADERS TOUGHT IT SOCIAL REBELLION. WHEN THE OWNER DECIDED TO SEND HIS SON, THINKING THE TENANTS WOULD RESPECT HIM, SINCE HE WAS ACTING AS THE AGENT OF HIS FATHER, THE TENANTS DECIDED TO KILL THE HEIR AND GET HIS INHERITANCE. THIS SOUNDS INSANE TO MODERN EARS, BUT, IF THE TENANTS ASSUMED THE OWNER TO HAVE DIED, AND THERE WAS NO OTHER HEIR, THE LAND WOULD REVERT TO THE ORIGINAL OWNERS WHO WERE PROBABLY THE TENANTS. SO THE TENANTS TOOK THE SON OUTSIDE OF THE VINEYARD AND KILLED HIM. THIS MUST HAVE SHOCKED EVERYONE WHO HEARD THE PARABLE; THIS WAS UNTHINKABLE.

WE ARE TOO OFTEN SHOCKED BY THE UNTHINKABLE, LIKE WHAT HAPPENED IN LAS VEGAS ON SUNDAY NIGHT. NO ONE COULD HAVE EXPECTED SUCH A THING TO HAPPEN, AND WHEN A HORROR LIKE THAT DOES OCCUR, ALONG WITH THE SEARCH FOR THE REASON WHY IT HAPPENED, THE POLITICIZATION, RECRIMINATIONS AND BLAME ALMOST OVERWHELM OUR RIGHTFUL SORROW AND GRIEF FOR THE INNOCENT VICTIMS. THE CRIES OF “SOMETHING MUST BE DONE” SPUR US TO ANGER AND OFTEN TO LOOK FOR SOME SORT OF PUNISHMENT OR VENGENCE, BEAUSE WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO.

THE VINEYARD HAD LONG BEEN THE METAPHOR FOR THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL SINCE THE TIME OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH, AND THE FRUIT OF THE VINEYARD PLANTED BY GOD WAS TO BE RIGHTEOUSNESS EXPRESSED BY FORGIVENESS, JUSTICE, MERCY, AND LOVE. GOD GAVE ISRAEL THE LAW, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, NOT AS A RESTRICTION BUT AS THE MEANS BY WHICH THEY COULD PRODUCE THE FRUIT OF THE VINEYARD IN THE SIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE. WHEN THOSE CHARGED WITH TENDING TO ISRAEL FAILED, GOD SENT THE PROPHETS TO CALL THEM BACK TO WHAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING, BUT THEY REJECTED THE PROPHETS, AND EVEN KILLED THEM. THE LEADERS OF ISRAEL OFTEN ACTED AS IF GOD DID NOT EXIST, PAYING NO MORE THAN LIP SERVICE TO HIM, AND CONCERNED MORE WITH THEIR OWN INTERESTS RATHER THAN GOD’S. ALL THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE BACKGROUND FOR THOSE HEARING THE PARABLE, ESPECIALLY THE LEADERS OF THE TEMPLE, BUT THEY HEARD ONLY THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL ASPECTS OF THE PARABLE, AND NOT ITS TRUE MEANING.

THEN JESUS ASKED, “NOW WHEN THE OWNER OF THE VINEYARD COMES, WHAT WILL HE DO TO THOSE TENANTS?” THE RESPONSE OF THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS WAS THEIR SELF-CONDEMNATION; “HE WILL PUT THOSE WRETCHES TO A MISERABLE DEATH, AND LEASE THE VINEYARD TO OTHER TENANTS WHO WILL GIVE HIM THE PRODUCE AT THE HARVEST TIME.” THIS IS THE WAY OF THE WORLD; AN EYE FOR AN EYE, DEATH FOR A DEATH.

JESUS’ RESPONSE MUST HAVE SEEMED AS IF HE CHANGED THE SUBJECT, AS HE REMINDED THEM OF THE PASSAGE FROM ISAIAH ABOUT THE STONE REJECTED BY THE BUILDERS BECOMING THE CORNERSTONE IN ZION. IN RESPONSE TO THE VIOLENCE, INJUSTICE, AND OPPRESSIONS OF THIS WORLD, GOD KNEW WHAT TO DO; HE SENT HIS SON, WHO WILL BE A STUMBLING BLOCK AND REJECTED BY THE AGENTS OF OPPRESSION AND FEAR, YET THE SALVATION OF THOSE WHO SEE THE SON AS THE CORNERSTONE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. IT IS TO THOSE WHO STAND ON THE PROMISE OF THE SON OF GOD THAT THE KINGDOM WILL BE GIVEN, AND NOT TO THOSE WHO SERVE ONLY THEIR OWN SELF-INTEREST. TO THE WAY OF THE WORLD, WITH ALL ITS HORRORS, GOD RESPONDS WITH THE FORGIVENESS, JUSTICE, MERCY, AND LOVE BROUGHT BY HIS ONLY SON.

TO US, THE KINGDOM HAS BEEN GIVEN; AND THAT INCLUDES ALL RACES, ETHNICITIES, COLORS, AND GENDERS WHO STAND ON THE PROMISE OF GOD IN JESUS OUR LORD. NOW, WE ARE THE ONES WHO TEND THE VINEYARD OF OUR GOD; AND THE FRUITS OF HIS VINEYARD ARE STILL AS THEY ALWAYS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE: FORGIVENESS, JUSTICE, MERCY, AND LOVE. THERE CAN BE NO PLACE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD FOR INJUSTICE, VENGENCE, REJECTION, AND HATRED. THERE ALSO CAN BE NO PLACE FOR SELF-INTEREST, BUT ALWAYS A SUBMISSION OF OUR SELF FOR THE SAKE OF ANOTHER BROTHER OR SISTER, EVEN THOSE WHO ARE NOT YET A PART OF THE KINGDOM.

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD COMES SOLELY THROUGH OUR FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, AND THAT FAITH COMES NOT BY ANY THING WE HAVE DONE, BUT BY THE GIFT OF GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT. THE LIFE OF THOSE GIFTED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD IS A LIFE THAT BEARS THE FRUITS OF HIS KINGDOM. IN RESPONSE TO ALL THINGS, EVEN THE UNTHINKABLE HORROR OF LAST SUNDAY, WE MUST PRODUCE THE FRUITS OF FORGIVENESS, JUSTICE, MERCY, AND LOVE. IT IS DIFFICULT, AND SOMETIMES VERY HARD TO DO, BUT THIS IS THE LABOR OF GOD’S VINEYARD, IN WHICH WE ARE CALLED TO LIVE AND WORK AS HIS LOYAL AND LOVING TENANTS. THANKS BE TO GOD. AMEN

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