Pastor Mark Jacobson ~ Pentecost 18 ~ October 8, 2017 ~ Matthew 21:33-43
DON’T FEEL LIKE THOSE ENTITLED TENANTS
33“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
“Listen to another parable,” Jesus says. This parable, The Parable of the Tenants, is closely connected to the previous parable, The Parable of the Two Sons (vv. 28-32). The Parable of the Two Sons also involved a vineyard. The father said to his first son, “‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ the son answered, but later he changed his mind and went.’ Then the father said the same thing to the second son, ‘Go and work today in my vineyard.’ That son answered, ‘I will sir,’ but did not go. Jesus asked, ‘Which of the two did what his father wanted?’ The chief priests and elders answered, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to the chief priests and elders, ‘Truly I tell, you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John the Baptist came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.’
The Parable of the Two Sons is about impenitence, refusing to be sorry for your sins. The Parable of the Tenants is about the reason for impenitence. The reason for impenitence is entitlement, the feeling that you own or are deserving of something you don’t own or deserve. In The Parable of the Tenants Jesus demonstrates how ridiculous it is to have feelings of entitlement. Jesus also shares how the ending is terribly sad for those who continue to have an entitlement attitude.
- God’s Grace is Ridiculously Good.
Jesus teaches, “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower.” This is good business. The wall is for protection. The winepress is for production. The watch tower is for watching the protection and the production. This is good business. The landowner could oversee the day-to-day operations of this vineyard himself, but had decided to rent the vineyard to some farmers and move to another place. It was fine for the landowner to do this. This way of business is still common today. The owner of a piece of property allows its renters to work their business on his property in exchange for some of the profits. Everything is business as usual so far.
Then this vineyard business gets ridiculous. Verse 35, “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
The landowner’s grace to the tenants is ridiculously good. The landowner should have pressed charges. Instead the landowner sent more servants. The landowner should have concluded, “There is nothing more I can do.” Instead the landowner concludes, ‘They will respect my son.” The son should have refused to go, or at least he should have gone with 12 legions of angels protecting him. At the very least he should have tried to run away like others would have. Instead the son willingly went. We don’t hear any mention of a fight or a fleeing. The landowner’s grace to the tenants is ridiculously good and so is the son’s.
Can you also see how God’s grace is ridiculously good for sinners? What makes Jesus’ parable of the tenants so ridiculously good is Jesus taught this parable on Tuesday…Tuesday of Holy Week. The crucifixion of Jesus had already been plotted. Jesus knew exactly what these tenant chief priests and these tenant Pharisees were up to, and in the telling of this parable Jesus is clearly communicating he knows exactly what they doing even though they don’t think Jesus knew what they were doing. And still Jesus doesn’t stop the bloodshed even when that blood is his own. God’s grace is ridiculously good.
So much innocent death in this Parable! First the servants, then the Son! So much innocent death this past week! As I reflect on the killings in Las Vegas I can’t help but wonder whether God didn’t give the heart attack to the wrong man in his sixties. In my mind, God should have allowed Tom Petty to live a little longer, and God should have put this Las Vegas shooter under cardiac arrest. Wouldn’t that have been a better conclusion to last Sunday night? God’s grace is ridiculously good. God’s grace is ridiculously good for all people and all people would include these evil chief priests and Pharisees who planned and plotted to take an innocent life. That same ridiculously good grace is also included for the man who planned and plotted the taking of innocent lives in Las Vegas.
- Their Ending Is Terribly Sad.
And yet there is a day of judgment. For those who refuse to repent, for those who continue to feel justified in doing whatever it is they want to do, their ending is terribly sad. Jesus allowed his opponents to express this terrible truth themselves when he asked, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
Exactly! The chief priests and elders had answered correctly. Jesus supports their answer with a familiar Old Testament passage. “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? The stone is Jesus. They rejected Jesus just like the tenant farmers had rejected the son, but on this rejected, crucified Jesus, the New Testament church had been built and still is being built. And the church is marvelous in our eyes.
It didn’t have to be this way for the chief priest and elders. It was only Tuesday. Friday was three days away. They could have taken this parable, the previous parable, and the parable Vicar will teach us next Sunday to heart, and maybe a few of them did, but the majority did not. They were impenitent. They felt entitled to do whatever it was they thought they could do. They didn’t believe.
Life never ends well for people who hang onto their feelings of entitlement. It didn’t end well for the entitled chief priests and elders. It didn’t end well for this Las Vegas shooter. He thought a gun to his head would end his problems. His problems have only just begun. He was not the owner of other people’s lives. He was just a tenant, a wretched tenant who has been brought to a wretched end.
Learn the lesson of the parable of the tenants! We are not owners. We are not the masters of our own fate. We’re not the real owners of anyone or anything on this earth either. Your life, your abilities, and your loved ones can be taken away at anytime. We are not the owners. We are tenants. It’s okay to be a tenant. Our God is not the like the winner of Monopoly who takes everything away from us. Our God is a God who gives. He gives us life, house and home, family, abilities, a means of income. He gives us the forgiveness of sins, spiritual peace, spiritual guidance, our home in heaven.
We can only give to God what he has first given to us. We only give back to God a small portion of what he has given to us. Most of our time and effort and money is spent on only what we want. Only a small portion of our time and our effort and our money is returned to him. And what we do return to him is used for the benefit of his vineyard, the church, the family of believers.
Don’t feel like those entitled tenants. Don’t feel like God still owes you something. For crying out loud, brothers and sister, our Lord has given you heaven. Heaven is on layaway, waiting until your work on earth is done and so be glad to participate in the work of his vineyard, the work of the church. Amen.