Matthew 21:33-end – Parable of the landowner who planted a vineyard
This morning’s gospel comes in the middle of a series of parables in Matthew. We’ve already heard the parable of the two sons, the parable of the workers and the wages (or are you envious because I am generous! – which I’m sure you all remember), today we hear the parable of the wicked tenants, and soon we’ll hear the parable of the wedding banquet. It comes in the middle of Matthew, smack bang in the middle of His earthly ministry and these parables form the basis of His teaching to those who would listen.
Jesus continues to use images and stories that connect with the people he was teaching – farmers, landowners, labourers and the religious leaders. We again have themes of farming and of caring for your land and crop.
So then, before we dig into this gospel let me challenge you gently to go home today and to open Matthew and to find these parables and to read them afresh. Matthew is my favourite gospel, the story of Jesus life and teaching is so rich and so easy for us to engage with that it opens the others… but before I get carried away! Let us get into the parable of the landowner who planted a vineyard.
In this parable, we have several main characters.
- The landowner – this would be God.
- The vineyard itself – is Israel
- The tenants are the religious leaders of the nation
- The messengers (the servants, the slaves) are the succession of prophets
- The son… the Son is Jesus
Jesus is speaking directly to the Jews of the time. Each and every person he is teaching understands the parallels that exist here and each detail it is built on – for those who were hearing it – these were facts they understood and were very familiar with.
In fact, Jesus is drawing not just on the imagery of farming and every-day life but on scripture and teaching they were very familiar with in the synagogue. Within this parable Jesus references Daniel, Isaiah and Psalm 118 – all with strong references to the stone… but… before I skip ahead to the end, let’s look at what else is going on.
This parable has themes of privilege and responsibility. We are told quite clearly that God has given us all we need. Everything that we could possibly need is at our hands. Our vineyard is richly equipped and protected and we have been trusted completely with the work of producing fruits of the kingdom. We are privileged to have been given this gift.
We have a difficult lesson here. Jesus is telling us what is about to happen. The religious leaders of the time (by the way – that’s us in this new world – so listen up) inhabit the vineyard, have all the gifts that God has to offer, but make a dreadful mistake. They believe that they can get around the law, the believe that they can take the gift that God has to offer with no price. They believe that if they kill, and continue to kill they will still inherit the gift the vineyard has to offer. How wrong they are!
But wait! God doesn’t just rain down sulphur, He doesn’t bring instant judgment – His response gives many opportunities to correct their mistakes. Servants and more servants are sent to the vineyard, they are told and told again of their mistake and invited to repent. Pay what is due and all will be forgiven. But they continue to think they can get the better of the landlord. They continue to ignore the servants…. And so, the landlord sends his Son. They can’t possibly ignore the Son!
Well, they can… and they did – and on this rock they perish. Here are our scriptural references again, and here Jesus is very clever. Psalm 118 was sung at all the major festivals in the synagogue, there is no way that people could forget his teaching when they hear it.
Listen to the Son… to the rock that will now form the basis – the cornerstone, the keystone of what is to come. You have rejected the gifts of the Lord and now the rock upon which you perish will be for us the rock upon which we build our faith and accept our gift of the vineyard. The message is so plan and easy to hear. The Lord is the rock which is both our sanctuary and our stumbling block. Jesus, is our foundation stone, a precious and sure foundation. That foundation is tested and has held strong.
And so, an important lesson with many nuances. Some stark language on what will happen if they continue to ignore the messengers of God. Of what will happen if they ignore the message of the Son.
Now, we all know what happens next. Jesus is ultimately killed, his teaching is utterly rejected, his message is ignored and so, the stone that the builders reject becomes the cornerstone of our faith – the Lord did this and is it not amazing in our eyes!
Will we then repeat the same mistake. Are we then blind to the gifts that God has given us in the here and now? Can we see those gifts? Can we imagine what they may be in our everyday life? Are those gifts of money? Are those gifts of time? Are they gifts of food or of toiletries for those who are on the street or for the foodbank? What are those gifts and how will you answer the servants and the Son when they come to collect the rent at harvest? When those who stand in front of you and ask for payment from your bountiful harvest – how will you respond?
Will you see the rock upon which you stand, upon which those gifts are given and be obedient and loving? Or will you dash yourself upon that rock and lose the greatest gift of all?
Can we see the gifts that we have been given? I can. And it’s why I’m so excited about being here and it’s why I come out before mass with both of my little feet tapping, because it’s easy to see those things that we don’t have – to see those problems in front of us – and to not grasp all the gifts that we have in this place.
And when people knock at our door and ask for payment – for us to give them those gifts in abundance and in joy.
That is my prayer for this parish, that we will not be the tenant s of the vineyard but that we will be as little children – excited and joyful for all of those who knock at our door.