This parable of the wicked tenants as it is sometimes called feels very rooted in its specific history so much so that even through the parables were told so that “hearing they might not hear” the Chief Priests discerned Jesus told this about them. It is the summaries, conclusions or maybe so far as application that open up the parable beyond the Jewish temple leadership. In my reading Jesus gives three separate summaries.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”
“The Kingdom of God will be taken away and given to those producing its fruit”
“The one who falls on the stone will be broken to pieces, the one the stone falls on will be crushed”
This sermon looks at each of those in progression and how the help us hear the parable for ourselves. The placing of the cornerstone is pure gospel. “God has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.” The second is the moral warning to watch. If you think the vineyard is yours to do with as you want, you might be killing the heir. The third thinks about our ultimate positions regarding God: ignoring such that we might trip over, set ourselves against him, or build on the cornerstone.
John the Baptist is always an interesting week (or two if you follow the lectionary. Due to the kids program on Advent 4 we usually move Advent 4 which is Mary’s week up). Luke incudes Isaiah’s words about the work of the forerunner which I can’t help but hear in the strains of Handel. Every valley shall be exalted, and the mountains and hills made plain. You see this work in how rough John is “You brood of vipers! Who warned you.” Bringing the mountains of our pride low. But you also see John building up. When the tax collectors and soldiers, hated and excluded members of society respond to his calls to baptism and ask “what do we do?”, John’s answer is not give up you immoral jobs but do them honorably and without corruption. The Word of God that came to John in the desert leveled and built up. The Word of God still does that today. It calls us to repent. It levels our grand visions and petty desires, and it builds us up through the fruits of repentance into the people of God.
That might be the general story of John, but the way Luke tells it is masterful. This sermon attempts to give Luke his due specifically looking at how he situates John. I’m hoping that the analogies to the world we live in are plain. If they are not, the sermon doesn’t work. But it is just that juxtaposition of the prophet John so clear, and the social reality that Luke brings home. And that gives rise to the hope of the Word of God in the wilderness.
Music Note: I left in the Hymn of Day. Lutheran Service Book 345, Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding. Of all the John the Baptist Hymns, and he has many, this one interestingly comes at his preaching from a direct hearer’s standpoint. John’s prophetic clearness and immediacy is thrilling, progresses through startling and then moves on to expectation and praise. It moves from bringing down our mountains to filling up the valleys.
The text is a continuation from last weeks Gospel reading which has Jesus declare “I am the true vine”, but here Jesus drops the metaphors and talks very plainly. The Christian life starts at a very simple point – God loves you. It has as its goal something likewise simple – fruitful living. Jesus ties these things together here. The Gospel, God’s love for us, take precedence as we are declared his friends. We are no longer slaves to the law, but friends. Love first. But it is directed love. A love directed toward fruitfulness which is defined by the commandments. What does love look like? When a friend gives his life for another. The Christian life has a cruciform shape. But it is a life of invitation into communion with God. It is a call to a life of prayer and a life of love.
The text is the third parable in a row that Jesus has told to the Chief Priests and the Elders in the temple. By this time the meaning at the time of telling is obvious, but the question is what does it mean on the other side of the parabola’s line of symmetry.
This sermon, with the help of Augustine and Gregory the Great, stakes out what it means for the church. In particular it looks at three things: 1) Where are we confronted with Jesus today?, 2) What do we take the wedding garment as? and 3) Do these things themselves point to something greater? Along the way we tackle a few other modern questions that cling to this parable.
The text is Matthew 21:33-46 which is the parable of the wicked tenants. I’ve pondered this parable for a long time – at least in American terms. It is filled with an urgency and a venom missing is the mustard seed and birds of the air. It has an easy allegory, but one that seems tailor made to produce pharisees. There are parts of it that to a Lutheran are shockingly troublesome. The production and handing over of “fruits” reads like works-righteousness. And the whole “leasing” of the vineyard reducing the Kingdom to a financial transaction. It doesn’t fit my nice and tidy systematic theology. And if we accept the easy allegory the church has placed on the parable almost from the start, does it mean anything to us today? Not much that I could see.
So for me here the key isn’t so much allegorical as centered in the Question of Jesus – “What will the landowner do when he returns?” Everybody has expectations. Some expectations get met and others go bust. The thought for the Christian life is to get your expectations in line with God’s. The landowners expectations get met. The only question is by whom. A cornerstone has been set. The vineyard will produce a crop. Do we fall over that cornerstone attempting to meet our expectations against the landowner, or do we produce the fruit in season viewing the vineyard and its cornerstone in the cross as marvelous?