Luke 20:9-19 #1186
What is the riskiest thing you have ever done? Jumped out of a perfectly good airplane? Eaten sushi at a gas station? Ordered that hot dog at the movie theater that has been spinning there since 1973?
Those are risky things, but I would put it to you today that one of the riskiest things we can do is…ask someone out on a date. Now hear me out, let me make my case. Since I didn’t get married until I was 34, I went out on a lot of first dates. I didn’t have nearly as many second dates, because I would call these girls up, ask them out again, and hear the same thing time, after time, after time. You know what I heard, “Let’s just be friends.” If I had ten bucks for every time I heard that I would have enough money to run for president. Taking a stab at love is always a risk. Some people who experienced rejection when they were teenagers or in college, never open themselves up to the possibility again. As the songwriter tells us, “Love Hurts.” Well, and “Love Stinks.” There are a lot of people out there, and probably some in here, that have put their hearts out there and taken a risk, only to have their hearts broken, and they got no “happily ever after.” Yet, it is in loving that we may find happiness, joy, and fulfillment. Sometimes we get rejected and hurt, but if we don’t risk the one, we don’t find the other. In Sunday’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who seemed willing to take some very big risks.
While Jesus was there in the temple in the early part of holy week, with the crowds and members of the Sanhedrin listening, He taught a parable about a man who owned a vineyard and rented it to some folks while he went to a country far away. The symbols in this parable are very clear. The owner of the vineyard is God, the vineyard itself is the people of Israel, the tenants are the Jewish rulers, the messengers are the prophets of God, and the son is Jesus.
The owner, God, had left the care of His people to their leaders: Moses, Joshua, the judges and kings, and in Jesus’ time, the Priests, the Pharisees and their cohorts. When God pointed out the errors of these leaders, He would do so by His prophets. But many times the prophets were treated badly. Many of the Old Testament prophets were murdered because they relayed God’s Word and God’s Judgment. Isaiah was sawn in half. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern and left to die. John the Baptist would be included here, too, as a lot of us pastor types consider him to be the last Old Testament prophet. He was beheaded.
After the tenants rejected the messengers, what did the owner of the vineyard do? He sent his son. This was a RISKY move. The tenants in the parable killed the son in the hope of receiving the vineyard and keeping it to themselves. By killing the son the owner had no heir to inherit. The owner’s (God’s) response to that situation was understandable. Jesus said the owner would come and kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others.
When the people listening heard this, they were mortified and said to each other, “May this never be!” They are saying this, probably, to the killing of the Son, the killing of the farmers and the giving away of the vineyard to others. Remember, Jesus was at the temple when He was saying all this, many of His listeners were the leaders of the Jews, the Priests, the Pharisees. And as Jesus said that, you need to know that the Pharisees were plotting to kill Jesus! Jesus knew that, and He was telling them, the tenants, that by rejecting Him, they were giving up their claim to the land, and God would give it to others, the Gentiles. In other words, us.
The key to the story is that the relationship between the Lord of the vineyard and the tenants is not a business agreement. The unspoken truth of the parable is that the Lord of the vineyard loves His tenants. He has every reason in the world not to love them, but He loves them anyway. Imagine an employer who not only likes his employees but loves them and thinks of them as a family. Do you feel that way where you work? If it had been just a business deal, then we know God would have expected us to earn our forgiveness. Every one of us would fail. And every one of us would die.
You may have asked yourself why the vineyard owner would send His son. This showed His commitment, His love. Now I have tried to make the case to you that loving can be a risk. Some people might think that God’s love doesn’t involve risk to Himself. Jesus showed that God’s love is not pretend, having the appearance of love, but with no actual risk. God doesn’t make us love Him. He gave us free will. Hollywood even got this right in “Bruce Almighty.” God doesn’t make us love Him. He loves everyone, but billions reject Him. As it turns out, the parable is as clear to us as anything in Scripture. The Son had come, and the tenants were plotting His death. Eventually, they took Him outside a vineyard named Jerusalem, to a hill named Golgotha. There, without conscience, they nailed Him to a cross, tortured and killed Him.
Now the vineyard is worked by others. But one part of the story never came about. At the request of the Son, the Lord of the vineyard did not kill the former tenants! He forgave them and continues to love them. Remember: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
While the old tenants of God’s vineyard are not dead, they have chosen not to be in that vineyard anymore. There are new tenants now. The new tenants are not a race of people. They are not business partners involved in an agreement where God’s mercy can be earned. They are people who are known by the Son, who trust in Him and live in His love. The renters are you and me, the Church, the Communion of Saints.
Therefore, I would ask you that the next time you watch King of Kings, Jesus of Nazareth, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus Christ Superstar or The Passion Live, remember that Jesus has really put His heart out there for us. He showed us His love for us by being willing to lay down His life for His friends. And He did that knowing the vast majority of people He did that for would say no thank you, and break His heart.
Today we thank God that He did not and does not keep His love to Himself. We thank God that He has not given up on us even though many give up on Him. God has taken the risks. He has done everything for us. Jesus died for us, rose for us, forgives us, loves us. And now we really do get to live happily ever after.