Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 22)
October 2, 2011
Text: Matt. 21:33-46
“O love, how deep, how broad, how high,” (LSB 544:1). It is the profound love of God for His people that Jesus preaches in the parable of the vineyard this morning. You see, there is no other explanation for the Master’s actions in the parable. Only love could cause Him to do what He does. For the Master in the parable, of course, is God. And the vineyard is His people Israel. That God plants the vineyard in the first place, as our Old Testament lesson says, that “He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines,” that “he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it,” (Is. 5:2; ESV), that He so carefully cultivated His vineyard and provided for it that it might thrive, this is, in and of itself, a supreme act of love. But when those whom He set over the vineyard, the tenants, the chief priests and elders, made a wreck of the vineyard and refused to produce fruit for the Master, in other words, when they abused the people of Israel and led them along false paths, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:9), equating the traditions of the elders with the Law of God, turning people away from faith in the promised Messiah to faith in their own works or despair over their inability to keep the Law… when these tenants were found to be unfaithful and wicked, the Master did not come in wrath to destroy them. Rather, in love, He sent His servants, the prophets, to collect the fruit of the vineyard, to proclaim the Word of the LORD, to call the tenants and the people of Israel to repentance and faith and to point them to the coming Messiah. And how were those servants treated? “(T)he tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stones another. Again, he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them” (Matt. 21:35-36). Prophet after Prophet the LORD sent to the people of Israel, and prophet after prophet was rejected, mistreated, beaten, killed, stoned. A fine reward for their faithful proclamation. Jesus even calls this a prophet’s reward (Matt. 5:12), to be counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus. But what is this Master thinking? Why does He keep sending servants? Surely He knows what will happen! The only answer could be love; love for the vineyard, Israel, and love for the wicked tenants themselves, the chief priests and elders. And as if this were not enough, what does the Master do next? He sends His Son. “They will respect my son,” He says (Matt. 21:37). It makes you almost want to shout at Him, “You fool, don’t do it, you know what will happen!” just like you want to shout at the character creeping up the stairs in a scary movie. You know what’s coming next. The Master knows, too, beloved. But it has to happen this way. “(W)hen 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” (vv. 38-39).
He sent His Son. To be killed. Love. Of course, this would never happen in real life. No worldly master would go to such an extent to be reconciled to his tenants. At the first refusal to yield fruit, a worldly master would have had the tenants evicted and punished. But parables never turn out the way they would if God were not the main character. And this did happen in real life. This is the story of God and His people. What is heartbreaking about the story, however, is that while the Son is sent to be killed for the sake of the vineyard, the tenants and the wild grapes, those who reject Jesus, the Son, must be thrown out. The vineyard is taken away from them and given to others. The chief priests and elders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, can no longer be the spiritual leaders of Israel. The vineyard must be repaired. And it is the Son who does this, in His death. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The chief priests and elders are the builders of Israel, but they’ve rejected Jesus, handing Him over to be crucified. And yet, this rejected stone, the Son who was thrown outside the walls of Jerusalem and killed on Calvary, He has become the cornerstone, the stone by which the position of the entire structure is determined. He is the cornerstone of the new Israel, the Holy Christian Church, Jews and Gentiles, all who believe in Jesus Christ, you, beloved. Which is to say, He’s risen from the dead. They couldn’t keep Him in the grave. This rejected stone/cornerstone stuff is death and resurrection language. The Son who was rejected and killed now lives and tends the vineyard Himself. And He does so through Christian pastors whom He has called to preach and care for the vineyard so that the vineyard, you and all believers in Christ Jesus, would produce the fruit of faith and love. The Master sent His Son for you, to be killed for you, because He loves you. That is the price of your redemption.
And now the new tenants, Christian pastors, are called upon to be faithful. St. Paul defines that faithfulness for us. He writes, “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). The tenants are to preach the stone that was rejected but that has now become the cornerstone, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. And this is the only preaching that will produce fruit in the vineyard, the preaching of Christ crucified. Any other preaching is precisely that: other preaching. It is not the preaching that Christ calls His tenants to do. If the tenants preach something else other than Christ crucified, they are committing the same crime that got the chief priests and elders expelled from the vineyard. And this is the take-home point for you, beloved. It matters who’s tending you, and it matters how they’re tending you. The chief priests and elders were very religious, very pious, very sincere, but they did not preach Christ crucified. There are preachers out there who claim to be the rightful tenants of the vineyard. They engage in a lot of “God-talk.” They are very religious, very pious, and very sincere. But the question you have to ask whenever someone preaches to you, be it me or someone else, is this: “Is he preaching Christ crucified?” Because if he’s not, the vineyard must be taken from him and given to another. Whenever you listen to a sermon, whenever you read a “Christian” book, whenever you listen to “Christian” music or watch “Christian” television, you should be asking this question: “Is it Christ crucified here proclaimed, or is it something else.” And if it’s something else, forget it. Even if it sounds biblical. Even if it’s about how to lead the Christian life. Even if Jesus’ Name is mentioned over and over again. Christ crucified is the criteria by which we evaluate teaching and proclamation. Because that’s the whole point of the Gospel. The Master, the Father, our Father, sends His Son, to be killed, for you.
And in the preaching of Christ crucified, the Holy Spirit is active in His Word to bring you to faith in Jesus Christ, and that’s the fruit the Lord desires from His vineyard, His Israel, His holy Church. Faith active in love. For you are saved through faith alone, faith in Jesus, the Son who was killed for you, but of course faith is never alone, but is always living, busy, and active in works of love done for the neighbor. Because the love of God, so high, so deep, that sent His Son to die for you, that love now flows through you to your neighbor. It all hinges on the preaching of Christ crucified. Through that preaching you, the branches, abide in Christ, the vine, and bear much fruit. Outside of that preaching you are severed from the vine, and can produce no fruit, because you are dead. Chief priests and elders and preachers of foreign theologies cut you off from Christ and ruin the vineyard. Faithful tenants, faithful pastors, theologians of the cross preach Christ crucified with St. Paul and with the servants who were beaten and killed, the prophets. They all proclaimed the God who sends His Son. They all proclaimed the Son who dies, who is killed for His vineyard. And so must every Christian pastor, for to proclaim the cross is to proclaim the love of God. To proclaim the cross is to connect you to the vine that is the living Lord Jesus.
Such love is profound, unutterable, incomprehensible. “For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed, He bore the shameful cross and death; For us He gave His dying breath” (LSB 544:5). But understand, this death is life for the vineyard, and for the servants who were sent to be beaten, killed, and stoned, and for preachers of the cross, and for you who live daily under the cross. Because you have been baptized into that death, and received that death in your ears and in your mouth. It isn’t just any death. It’s death of the One who is now risen from the dead. So great is the Master’s love for you, He sent His Son, knowing full well what would happen. His Son would die. His Son would redeem you to be His own. And by the power of the Son, you would produce the fruit of faith and love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.