Trinity 20 – Matthew 22:1-
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
During Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, our Lord Jesus says some pretty blunt things. Sometimes we like to think of Jesus merely as gentle and mild, a nice cute Baby who would never make a fuss. Well, when He grows up and preaches, Jesus quite often makes a fuss, because Christ Jesus our Lord does not let sin go unchecked or unnoted. And so, here in our text this morning, Jesus has entered Jerusalem, in fact, this parable is given right in the Temple. The chief priests and the Pharisees and the big-wigs of the people are there – and Jesus lays down the Law. We too should pay attention to this text, lest Jesus be forced to crush us with a word of Law. Listen.
Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. Christ here, with this parable, is speaking directly to the formation of Israel. God placed the people of Israel in the Holy Land – He brought them up out of Egypt and put them there. He did more than put a fence around them – but gave them the protection of His almighty power – so that they were safe. What winepress did He dig for Israel – God gave them plenty, so they were provided for. A tower – Jerusalem, city built on a hill, with even the towers of Solomon’s temple – so that all was provided, everything that they would need – a home, safety, wealth, worship – all there for them. But.
When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. It doesn’t go well. God sends His servants, His prophets to the land of Israel, and they are constantly rejected. The people don’t want to hear what the prophets say – even when the prophets come and give warning – watch out, repent – they are rejected. And often they are beaten. Or exiled. Or even killed. That is how the prophets were treated. In doing so – in despising the men sent to preach the Word of God, Israel was despising God Himself.
Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.” And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. And it even is out right rebellion. Let us completely forget the God who has blessed us, let us ignore Him and His salvation – we will do it ourselves, it will be ours. This is how Christ describes the state of affairs in Israel – and He is spot on, for these Chief Priests and many of the Pharisees will call out for Christ to be crucified.
So, what effect will this have? When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their season. The Priests, the Pharisees get it. If you continually confront the master, if you continually resist God – well, God is known to resist the proud and humble them. And they even say, “Yeah, God will give His blessings to others.” And they still reject Christ, they still put Him to death.
And Christ even warns them. Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’ Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And here’s where we have the temptation to be smug. We have seen what happens. God’s Kingdom now rests with Christianity – it is we Christians who are now the people of God, we are the tenants now serving God and reaping His benefits. And that is historically what happened – but this shouldn’t be a cause for pride or arrogance – rather, we should take this parable not just as a history lesson of some 2000 years ago, but also a warning for ourselves today.
Are we here not tenants in God’s Kingdom? Have we not been called by the Holy Spirit by the Gospel, gathered together to hear His Word and receive His Sacraments, are we not even more blessed than David or Elijah were – for what they merely looked forward to we have in full? We know the Messiah, we know His plan of salvation. Yet – how often can we fail just like God’s people of old failed. Israel’s failure was two fold. The first is that they forgot God. They forgot that it was God’s vineyard – that He was the One who had planted them and blessed them and provided for them. Rather, in pride, they thought to claim the glory for themselves. The second is that they failed to produce fruits. They failed to show love – they had become jaded and self-centered, worried only about their own petty little lives. And because of this, when Christ comes – when the Messiah finally arrives – so many reject Him. They no longer recognize God’s blessings – why would they recognize His greatest blessing to them? They no longer desire to show Love – why would they recognize God Himself and His love? And so – they were lost.
Do you think, dear friends, that just because you aren’t 1st Century Jews, but rather are Americans in the 21st Century, that the same pitfalls don’t await you? Should we become lousy tenants, the same condemnation awaits us. So – how about it? Do we forget God? Do we forget His blessings to us? Do we look upon our lives and simply see wonder after wonder that God has provided for us – do we see our house and home, our families, our fields, our jobs, our stuff as wonderful gifts from God? Or are they something else – do we see them as the “fruits of OUR labor” – is it God’s blessing to me, or is it my stuff that I worked hard for? We are in God’s vineyard, and we are richly blessed – but do we remember that it is all God’s – or have we become prideful in our own works, in our own strength, that we fail to give thanks to God, that we fail to recognize Him as the loving Lord who provides for all that we need?
And what of the second danger? Do we produce fruits? It’s the horrid irony – we will be so prideful about all that we do – when so much of what we are prideful in is simply blessings given to us by God. No, when it comes time to work, the question is do we produce fruit, do we produce good works, do we show love like we ought. Well? How’s your love been this week? Have your thoughts been more “What’s in it for me” or “What’s in it for my neighbor”? Have you sought to give out and share the Master’s harvest – share the blessings in your life – or are you working on stockpiling a horde worthy of a dragon? Are your thoughts focused upon God and the Neighbor or are they primarily focused on serving and pleasing yourself?
Here’s the simple, plain truth. We are no better than the people of old. Both they and us, sinners through and through. Israel runs off cock-sure and proud – and don’t we? Israel frets and worries – and don’t we? Israel grumbles – and don’t we? We are in the same danger the people of Israel were. And so, we too should listen when Christ says, And the one who falls upon this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it – He sees the mess that sin has made of the world. Not one is righteous, no, not one. And our Cornerstone, Christ Jesus has come. How will you relate to Him? Will you be broken upon Him, or will He crush you? Which will it be? When Christ comes, will you fall upon Him seeking mercy, will you see your sin and let your heart be broken to pieces – or will you be stubborn and obstinate, demand your own ways, and be crushed by Him.
Broken or crushed. One is much better. David says in the 51st Psalm – The Sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Will you repent of your sin and be broken of your sinful desires – will you struggle to beat and break down your sinful flesh by the power of God’s Word – and be welcomed and forgiven by Christ? Or will you be crushed – The Lord God said to the serpent. . . I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall strike his heel. Will you hold on to your pride and resist God and be crushed and destroyed along with Satan and all His minions? This is the blunt truth, and Christ lays it out today.
Well, that’s a good old blunt parable from Christ – isn’t it, a good old paint peeler. So what do we learn? What we learn is this. As Christians, we are always to strive to show love more fully, to seek out ways of showing God’s love. We are to delight in the blessings God gives us, to rejoice in them. But we must be wary – when we do show love, we should never think, “Oh, look what a good Christian I am.” When we see our blessings, we should never think, “Ah, God must really like ME more than my neighbor.” That’s the way of pride, that’s the way of sin and Satan. Rather this. One of Luther’s last words was “We are all beggars before God.” We are those who are humble, who are lowly, but who receive from our Lord and Master much goodness and love. And even when we do work, when we produce fruits – what’s the old hymn? We give Thee but Thine own. Your life, dear Christian, is all about what God gives you, the blessings He lays out for you. He is the One who is the Giver of Life, is the One who provides daily bread. But He is also the One who provides rich forgiveness of your sins, and gives life to you. Think on this service – how many times does God say that you are forgiven, how many times is His peace given to you, how many times is His blessing placed upon you? And this is what Christ desires that you remember and know and believe all your days – in spite of whatever Satan throws your way. Know who you are, that you are a humble tenant who relies and lives on the good will of your Master – and know that God, your master is good to you. He will see you blessed and He will see you forgiven – the Cross of His Son Christ Jesus is the proof and guarantee of that. All glory be to God alone, who is so eager to save us from our sins. Amen.