Pious or Penitent
5th Sunday in Lent (3-21-10)
[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. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 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.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 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’?
“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
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. 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.
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Our text comes from the Tuesday in Holy Week. The Lord had made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem just two days prior on Palm Sunday, which we will celebrate next Sunday. As Jesus entered Jerusalem He wept over it and said: and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace-- but now it is hidden from your eyes.” Jesus then cleansed the temple. The chief priests, scribes, and elders, confronted Him and questioned His authority. Remember they rejected His authority, for they were hoping for a Messiah that would free them from Roman rule. They couldn’t see they needed to be freed from their sin instead. After this confrontation we get to our text, where our Lord tells the people the parable of the wicked vinedressers. There were many other people present at this time…not just the religious rulers. But He taught this parable against the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and they knew it.
Jesus begins the parable saying "A certain man planted a vineyard." This "man" was God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. The vineyard He planted was His kingdom. He "leased it to vinedressers," the Israelites, especially their leaders. The Lord was looking for a harvest, that His people would bear fruit, the fruit of faith and repentance. He was looking for believers. He sent servants—namely, the prophets—into the kingdom, looking to promote the faith, through the fruit of repentance. What did the leaders of Israel do? They beat the prophets severely. For added effect, one might consider that the Greek word (dero) used here for "beat" it can also mean the flayed—being skinned alive. This happened with the first two servants in this parable, the second one also being treated shamelessly, in the Greek points to this as abuse purposely disgracing. Each time a prophet was sent the reaction of the people was progressively worse. The owner of the vineyard sent a third servant, who was treated even worse, wounded and thrown out.
No doubt the people who heard this parable, “the common folk” were shocked to hear of such treatment, wondering why the owner didn’t take drastic action, like calling out civil authorities. Jesus doesn’t mention this in order that He may teach them of His Father's patience with and love for His people. "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Probably they will respect him when they see him'" (v. 13). In the fullness of time, God sent His Son into the world, His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased, that they would listen to Him. Instead they plotted against the son, cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. The Lord was stating publicly what the Sanhedrin was conspiring in private to do. Just in three days they would cast Him out of Jerusalem and kill Him, crucifying Him to death. The Lord in this parable was exposing the greed and lust for power of these so called religious leaders. They knew He had interpreted Scripture correctly and spoken truly. And He had interpreted it against them.
What would happen to those vinedressers? The owner "will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others" (v. 16a). That’s exactly what happen in 70 AD, when the temple was destroyed along with the city of Jerusalem. The vineyard, the kingdom of God, was removed from the Pharisees and their ilk and was given to all through the preaching of the Apostles of the Messiah. The church father Cyril writes:
“The farm was given to other farmers. Who are they? The answer is the company of the holy apostles, the preachers of the evangelical commandments, the ministers of the new covenant. They were the teachers of a spiritual service, and knew how to instruct people correctly and blamelessly and to lead them most excellently to everything that is pleasing to God…God plainly reveals that the farm was given to other farmers and not only to the holy apostles but also to those who come after them, although they are not from the Jewish bloodline. He says by the voice of Isaiah to the church of the Gentiles and to the remnant of Israel, "Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers." Many were called from the Gentiles, and holy people from their number became teachers and instructors. Even to this day, people of Gentile race hold high place in the churches. They are sowing the seeds of piety to Christ in the hearts of their believers and making the nations entrusted to their care into beautiful vineyards in the sight of God.”
This is what the religious tyrants feared most of all because they enjoyed the power they had and would do anything to retain it. Their sphere of influence and relevance was shrinking before their very eyes, for many people were listening to Jesus. Jesus teaching’s brought the people comfort and hope, joy and peace.
What would happen to those who refused to listen not only to the prophets but to the Son of God? Christ, the Cornerstone, will destroy them in the judgment on the Last Day, ground into powder, as the Lord says in His parable. It’s our prayer that we may never fall away from our Lord and commit the sin of apostasy. Or reject His message, but that we would keep His Name holy, for "God's Name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray…that it may be kept holy among us also. We also pray that the Word of God be taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, might also lead holy lives according to it. But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the Name of God among us will be crushed.
We keep God's Name holy when we live lives according to His Word, bearing the fruit He desires, bearing the fruits of faith and in keeping with repentance. Yet we don’t keep God's Name holy. We don’t bear the fruits He expects from us. A good tree bears good fruit, while a bad tree bears bad fruit. If we bear bad fruit, we’re not good trees. We’re bad trees that refuse to allow the owner of the vineyard to prune us. This refusal, by the way, is our not wanting to hear the preaching of the Law, for it reminds us that we are bad trees whose fruit is as bad as we are. We don’t want anything to do with the servants who are sent to the vineyard, for we don’t like being admonished. We live in a world that spends its time telling everyone how wonderful they are. A world centered on self trying to boost everyone’s self esteem. Everything is alright as long as we feel good about ourselves. We are hostile to the fact that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and we are hostile to anyone who dares to tell us that, just like the Israelites were hostile to the prophets. We shun the prophets of old and of today because our sinful nature shuns being reproved even from the Son of God Himself. The Pharisees conspired to kill Him, they conspired to do what we would do today, for our sins have put Jesus on the cross, and "the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." On the Last Day this Cornerstone will crush whomever it falls on, that is, those who have rejected the Cornerstone. As long as we don’t repent and return to the Lord, we risk being crushed and destroyed on the Last Day, into all eternity.
The Lord does say, "Whoever falls on that stone will be broken." The Christian's life is not perfect in this world, for there are times in which we stumble and fall in our sins. We fall and we break; we are broken in a state of contrition. Through the preaching of the Law we are brought to sorrow over our sins, we are led to repentance, which is one of the fruits of the Christian. The preaching of the Law is necessary, for it prepares us to hear the Gospel, which announces to us that our sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake. When our Lord finds us broken in our sins, He binds up our wounds and heals us, speaking words of healing into our ears as He says, "Your sins are forgiven." He heals our wounds by the wounds He bore on the cross for us. As the prophet Isaiah says regarding the Suffering Servant: "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Yes, the Son was cast out of the vineyard, out of Jerusalem, where ungodly men killed Him, where He died for you. They destroyed the temple, and He raised it again on the third day—the temple of His body so that you would have the sure and certain hope of eternal life in heaven.
You see, as sinners we continue to stumble and fall during our pilgrimage in a strange land, for we are strangers here, heaven is our home. We stumble and fall, and we are broken as the result of our sinfulness. But the Lord lifts us up and restores us. Daily we remember our Baptism and the forgiveness of our sins purchased by Christ and His cross. Daily we drown our old Adam and start over as , new, refreshed and recreated child of God.
Our heavenly Father continues to raise us up for His Son's sake, that we would be His good trees and bear His fruit, fruit that will last, fruit that is well pleasing in His sight. This fruit that we bear by the power of God through the Holy Spirit is faith. A faith that will allow us to say next Sunday what all those said the day Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!" Enter the Jerusalem of our hearts O Lord and plant your vineyards within, make us your fruitful servants. In Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN