And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone”?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Luke 20:9–18)
Imagine you have a small business – maybe a convenience store in the Midwest. You decide to move to Florida, and you place the convenience store in the hands of some employees. When the time comes for your rent check to show up, nothing. No check in the mail. No phone call. No email. Just nothing.
You decide to send one of your other employees, but the store employees beat him and send him away. You send a second employee and a third; the second is publicly humiliated and beaten, and the third is wounded nearly to the point of death. Then you come up with a great idea, “Maybe they’ll respect my own child. I mean, they nearly killed the last servant that I sent, but what could possibly go wrong? That’s just good business, right? That’s what anyone would do?”
You would send the police! You would send an army of your faithful employees! You would take back by force, if necessary, that which had been refused to you! But you wouldn’t send your child whom you love.
This, however, is the very nature of God, a God of second and third chances, a God of forgiveness!
But the parable serves as a warning as well. Those who do not accept the good and gracious gift of the Father will have to give an answer someday. For those who don’t get on board with God’s message of forgiveness and for those who continue to rebel against his righteousness, judgment is coming. In other words, for those who refuse to live under the shadow of the cross, judgement is coming.
This is a parable about God’s people. It was a warning to the Jewish religious leaders, as well as the crowds of Jesus’s day, that God was fed up with their rebellion against him, but he was also fed up with their own self-righteous pride. They understood that the warning was directed at them, and their response to God’s judgment and removal of his favor was, “God forbid!”
Is the Church on board with both God’s righteousness and his message of humility and love? Or is the Church, like the people of God in Jesus’s day, split between licentiousness and self-righteousness? God forbid!
Heavenly Father, forgive us when we wander from your righteousness, and forgive us when we wander from the shadow of the cross, living lives of self-righteous contempt for a world that you desperately love. In the name of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, amen.