Matthew 21:33-46

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

    and it is amazing in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

How many of you had siblings or friends growing up and you’d have to share something like candy with them?  I’ve been thinking a lot about that with Halloween coming up this month…of course, not sure what Halloween will even look like this year!!!

But, as a kid, I remembered my sister and I splitting our candy haul…when I was younger, my older sister would always do the splitting like this:  “one for you Rich, and two for me…one more for you Rich, and three for me…”…I’m sure y’all know that game…it took me a few years, but I caught on eventually.  

Our daughter did a similar thing with our son when they were little children.  She, being the elder, had received some change back for something, she was supposed to share it with her little brother evenly.  It was a few dollars and lots of change.  She “sold” him on what sounded like a great bargain to a 4 or 5 year old, “Brennan, I’m going to give you all of this change…there’s more of them, and they are shinier than these pieces of paper”.  He thought she was so generous…of course, we watched the whole thing go down and stepped in after laughing a bit…she’s resourceful!!!

Our gospel lesson this morning is a continuation of Jesus being questioned by the religious leaders in the first century…he answers with questions, and also with parables that have questions and deeper lessons that are planted like seeds within them that eventually grow within you.

Jesus tells this story about workers in a vineyard.  Back in the first century, tenant farmers would be allowed to live on the land of an owner, work the land, and give an agreed upon portion of the produce back to the landowner, and then keep some for their own.  This was apparently a great farm, had a winepress, and even a watchtower.  

When it came time for the landowners servants to come and collect what was due to the landowner, it seems like the tenants had not saved enough for the landowner.  They wanted more than the agreed upon share.  So, they beat up not the servants, killed one, stoned another.  The landowner sent more servants, given them some mercy even…they did the same thing.  The landowner then decides to send his own son, his own flesh and blood…surely they will respect him he says.  Yet, they also killed him.

Now, there are some things problematic with this to our 21st century understandings…the servants were slaves, and seems like human life was kind of cheap.  And, then, why send the son?  Well, we do have to remember that there’s a different way of thinking…and, 1st century hearers would look at this as much more in an honor and shame frame of mind…and in a way that is saying that the landowner, who was obviously not living in the vineyard was trying to get what was due him.

And, the point of this parable, is that God has been sending folks to Israel, to get their attention, to get them to be in relationship with God and one another.  But, they were not living for the common good.  They had set up a patriarchal system, a power system that kept them at the top and gave them more than their fair share of resources.  And, they wanted more.  God had called Israel to be an example of Jubilee, of Shalom, to the rest of the world.  Jubilee being a mind and heart-set of forgiving debts, of restoring the land, and releasing folks from slavery.  Shalom being peace, or folks willing to live within community, diverse community filled with authentic relationship, including others, and working towards the common good.  Both aspects of what the Kingdom of God looks like.  

Yet, Israel was mimicking the kingdoms around them.  These kingdoms seemed to be flourishing at times, and Israel’s leadership wanted to be like them, so they set up these patriarchal, power and control kingdoms based on other nations, and not on what God intended.

God sent prophet after prophet, telling them to “repent” and to live as God intended.  Like the landowner’s servants, those prophets did not end up so well.  God even came as God’s son, the Trinity incarnate, in the flesh.  And, yet, we know what happened to Jesus.  

The pivot in this scripture is when Jesus says that the landowner will give the vineyard to other peoples, or the original Greek is “ethnos” or “nations”.  God’s message will find fertile soil to be planted in and to grow.  God’s intention has always been for all peoples to share in God’s relational flowing love.  And, if the tenants, or Israel, weren’t going to live as God intended, others would.

Jesus goes on to talk about a cornerstone.  A cornerstone is a part of the foundation of a building.  It gives it strength and standing.  Without the cornerstone, the building isn’t as stable.  Jesus is the cornerstone, and as Paul talks about later, the cornerstone rejected by the religious leaders, or the system that they had created.  Jesus, as the cornerstone was about relationship…relationship within the Trinity, extended to all peoples, staring with those diverse voices from the margins.   This cornerstone was the fabric of the universe, authentic relationship that holds everything together in wonderful creativity and healthy tension that leads to growth.

The rigid systems, the dogma of the powerful that kept people in their places, and the patriarchy of that time would be crushed on this cornerstone…and it was, and still is being crushed, even today.  

The religious leaders knew that Jesus was talking about them, and that a new movement was upon them.  They wanted to stop it.  But, they were afraid of the crowds.  So, they waited until they could gin up a different crowd that eventually led to Jesus’s death on a cross.

But, little did they know that this cornerstone was much stronger and deeper.  And, that their system, and all of the systems that followed, ones that exploited marginalized folks, kept a small group on the top of the proverbial heap at the expense of others, would be and will be crushed by the cornerstone…the life of Jesus, demonstrated and carried throughout history, from the beginning, and at right now, and even into the future, continues on…and even grows and expands.  

This relational flow moves in every nook and cranny of our lives and in the lives of others…as well as in all places and things.  Christ is everywhere as our early church fathers and mothers proclaimed!  Friends, we may feel overwhelmed with the events of this season in life, but know this…God’s love for us is personal, and it is also corporate…it is not just intimate, but it is flowing in the public square…eventually crushing all injustices.  

All of you are a part of that flow…you are a part of this Jesus movement that cannot be stopped, nor can it be understood…but, it can be caught and lived into. God’s relational flow is taking us places that are wild, unexpected, hard, and beautiful!  

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