The Landlord’s Dilemma
Once there was a man who owned a piece of property. He felt he could make a fine grape vineyard…..So he planted a vineyard on the property – and then he enclosed it with a wall…. He wanted this to be a full service operation, so within the wall he dug a winepress—a vat where the grapes could be pressed and the juice extracted….. And he built a watchtower – to protect his vineyard… because this was a lawless land and you never knew what vandals might do. ….Then, after making a sizeable investment in his vineyard…. He rented it to some tenants, and he – moved to another part of the country….he was feeling really good about his investment.
When the harvest time approached… this man sent some of his associates to the vineyard – to collect his produce. Now – it’s always difficult to be an absentee landlord. Any of you who have rental property – know this. But you’ve never had a situation like this man faced with these tenants.
When the man’s associates came to collect the produce due him… the tenants seized them….beat them…stoned them…and even killed one of them…..At this point, you would think it would be time to call in the authorities.
Instead, the man who owned the vineyard sent a second group of associates, a larger group this time. But again…the tenants were not intimidated and they treated these new associates the same way they treated the first group –robbing, beating, even killing some of them……. I don’t know about you…. But, I would be ready to cut my losses.
But NOT this vineyard owner….evidently he prized the vineyard he so carefully had planted. And because the vineyard meant so much to him… he turned to more desperate measures….
He sends his son to carry out the mission. “They’ll respect my son,” he thinks to himself. Well,… you can guess what came from that… The tenants see the son and they decide to rob him and kill him. They don’t even ask for ransom…they just put him to death.
This was obviously the ultimate act of defiance… The owner of the vineyard would surely punish such barbarous behavior…He would crush them…send his minions to thoroughly destroy them…..
By now, however, you have figured out that this is not how the story ends. It’s the way it should’ve turned out. The vineyard owner should have sent an army and thoroughly destroyed these criminals. But this is a parable of Jesus… After telling it, he turns to his listeners and asks a simple question, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
His listeners, caught up in the story by this time, are like some of us, – ready to take up arms. “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they reply, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
Well… Then Jesus drops the bomb: “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?’” At first… there was confusion among Jesus’ listeners. “What’s he talking about?” This was followed by a stony silence.
Did I mention that Jesus was telling this parable to the chief priests and the Pharisees? They had come to Jesus asking him, by what authority was he going about his work. In other words…they were asking him “What are your credentials? Who licensed you to preach and to teach and to heal?”
By the time he had answered with this parable, …. they suddenly realized – that this story wasn’t about an owner of a vineyard at all. It was about them… They were the murderous tenants, and he was the son sent by the owner of the vineyard. HE was the stone that was rejected – who would one day – be the cornerstone.
Matthew ends this passage like this: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.” This was a chilling story for the chief priests and the Pharisees. And there are some important elements to this story that we need to explore.
1) In telling of this parable – Jesus obviously knew the fate that awaited him. Could you put yourself in his place for a moment? He is in his early 30’s. That’s awfully young to die. [Who do we have here today who is in their late 20’s early 30’s – hold up your hand….So young]
Jesus’ life to this point held so much promise. To many people he was a rock star. Crowds numbering into the thousands followed him everywhere he went. He had disciples who fixed onto his every word. Some of those who followed him had already vowed they would die for him. If his country was a democracy, he probably could have been elected President, if he had chosen to run.
As far as we know he was happy and healthy and at the top of his game…. But suddenly – his time was running out. [He had been to the doctor and they found a tumor, an inoperable tumor. The dr. said there was nothing they could do.] No, that’s not how the story reads, is it? But it could have. There have been young men and young women whose lives have been altogether too short. Any of those horrific life shortening diseases or accidents – could easily fill this gap. In our human-ness, it is not easy to realize one’s life is nearly over – shortened by something over which you have no control.
But Jesus did have control…All he had to do was step aside from the work God had called him to do….Step aside – melt into the crowd. Let someone else save the world. He could have, you know. Those were real drops of sweat, like drops of blood that fell from his brow in the garden on the night he was betrayed. He had a decision to make. Would he be faithful to God’s call or would he choose to save his own life? No one would blame him – if he chose to back off. Go back to Joseph’s carpenter shop. Or get proper credentials and enjoy the good life as a popular religious leader. They live well, those advocates of the prosperity gospel. Those temptations that Satan had shown Jesus at the beginning of his ministry were real temptations. He had the world at his feet.
Can you put yourself in his skin? Thirty-three years of age and a choice to make–to seek to experience all the pleasures of this world – or to make his life a sacrifice for others.
Around the world today – there are young men and women who have faced that decision about choosing a life of pleasure or a life of sacrifice, and they have chosen sacrifice. Some of them are on battlefields, some are on mission fields. Some are teaching small children in America’s decaying inner cities. Some are working in hospitals, not because it is the place of their dreams, but because their life has been touched by the example of Jesus.
As Jesus confronted the chief priests and the Pharisees he knew the fate that faced him. This was a cruel time in history. Troublemakers were disposed of with little ceremony. Within a matter of days he would be flogged with a whip and crucified naked on a cross. Not because he had done anything wrong, but because his own people rejected him – and the kingdom that he taught, even the religious people. The people who profited from the status quo certainly rejected him. So shall it ever be.
People who live only for themselves can never comprehend the way of the cross. They’re like Nicodemus. – Jesus told Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin – that for him to enter the Kingdom Of God, he would have to be born all over again. That’s true of many of us as well. The values of the kingdom are that transforming. We would need to be born all over again to comprehend the way of the cross. We would need to be entirely new people. (John 3:1-21).
Thirty-three years old and he could see how his life would end. The world wasn’t ready for him and his Gospel of peace and justice. It still isn’t. He is the stone that was rejected; – the son who was murdered.
But why did he do it? What drove him to lay down his life? LOVE. That’s the only reason. “…God so loved the world that he gave his only son….”
Think about the transforming power of love. Thank God there are people capable of kind, unselfish, unconditional love…There are people all over this world who have been touched by Jesus’ example. Some of them are young people. Some are older. Some are in lands far away. Some are right here in our own neighborhood. People caring for people. Some are never in a situation where an act of heroism is called for. Some show their love in a simple hospital visit; others by working through community organizations to help the least and the lost.
As Jesus told this parable about the vineyard and the wicked tenants to the chief priests and Pharisees, he knew the fate that lay before him. Why did he lay down his life? Love….Love for you and me. But what was his goal? What did he hope to achieve? His goal was that his life would be the cornerstone for a new way of living.
Why have we not understood that this world was created for love, for compassion, for sharing, for jumping off a railroad platform to save a stranger in distress? What would it take for us to understand that this is the kind of world that God desires, a world where those who live in abundance – share with those who have so little? What would God need to do to get that truth through to us? Send His own innocent Son? Have Him die? Would that do it?
Around a table one night – Christ passed a loaf of unleavened bread. “This is my body which was broken for you…” [then he passed a cup] “This is my blood shed for you…”
Was it all in vain? It was if we who call ourselves His followers live only for ourselves. But it’s not too late. This is a day for us to take stock of our lives in the same way Jesus asked the chief priests and Pharisees to take stock of their lives. The stone which was rejected has become the cornerstone… Has He become the cornerstone of your life?