"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. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 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.” 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’? 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. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Matthew 21:33-46

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (October 5, 2014) on Matthew 21:33-46. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


This...this reading from Matthew… it is a hard text.  

We’re immediately after the lesson we heard last week.  Jesus is in the temple, he’s teaching, and the religious leaders come up and ask him a question. They asked Jesus who gave him the authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, who gave him the authority to have meals with the outcasts and the poor.  And Jesus responded with a question and with a parable about a father and two sons.  Now, Jesus is following up that parable with a second parable.  He tends to do that when leaders question his authority. And this is the parable we get. 

It’s brutal. It’s violent. There’s a landowner who builds a vineyard, rents it out, and once the rent needs to be paid, there is an escalating spiral of violence.  There are slaves. These slaves are killed and beaten. The heir of the landowner is sent and he is killed. And when Jesus explains the parable - we get increasingly bigger images of death. First, violence to the tenants.  Then the kingdom of God is taken away from the religious authorities.  A cornerstone is mentioned that crushes and breaks those around it.  And, finally, we hear that the religious leaders are afraid of violence from those listening to Jesus’ teaching. It’s difficult to not see the violence - it’s difficult to see Jesus talking about violence - and to note why this text has been used to justify violence against our Jewish brothers and sisters over the centuries. There is a violence here that I don’t like - a violent streak that I don’t like to think Jesus had. 
But maybe there’s something else in this reading that can help bring the gospel out of it. And I think it has to do with where Jesus starts his parable - he starts it in another vineyard. 

Now, Jesus wasn’t just putting his parable in any field where grapes are grown - no, he was specifically pointing to [our reading in Isaiah] [a reading from Isaiah, chapter 5].  There the prophet Isaiah begins his story with something very strange.  He says - “Let me sing for my beloved my love-song…” A love-song.  

Maybe that’s a key that we can use to understand what Jesus is talking about in our reading from Matthew.  

Now, I guess that we’ve all heard plenty of love songs in our lives. When we turn on the radio, turn on spotify on our computer, we’re probably going to hear some song that have something to do with love.  So when I hear the words “love song,” I’m thinking John Legend or Taylor Swift or Beyonce - because there are songs about love - and then there are songs that are really about love.  Songs about falling into love, falling out of love, being happy in love and being sad when love ends. But I don’t know if I’ve heard a love song on the Z100 like this one from Matthew. Because seeing Jesus’ parable as a love song doesn’t minimize the violence but maybe it helps us ask the question just where the love is. What makes this song a love song.  And I think it rests on that cornerstone. 
Because Jesus does something different in this parable. As he tells this parable, I imagine his audience - the religious leaders - seeing themselves as the landowners.  They are the ones who have devoted their lives to reading and teaching God’s word. They were appointed by God to be the stewards of God’s people. They worked hard to maintain their Jewish identity while being occupied by the Roman Empire. They saw themselves as builders and I don’t think they’re wrong.  What I don’t think they saw - and what I think we struggle to see even today - is the move that Jesus makes.  Because his parable isn’t about the landowner. The parable isn’t about the tenants who beat and kill. The parable is centered on the unexpected thing.  After the first slaves were sent and then the second, it didn’t make sense for the landowner to send his son.  Even if take into consideration that the culture of ancient Israel is much different from ours today - the landowner’s action is unexpected. We already know that the tenants are violent - their reaction to the arrival of the son - that’s expected. But the landowner sending the son - that unexpected thing - that’s the love song. The problem with the religious leaders is that they’re not seeing what God is doing - they’re not seeing God’s behavior - they’re not noticing that God acts in unexpected ways. 

Because Jesus is that unexpected thing.  And Jesus changes everything. 

Today at Christ Lutheran - we’re doing a lot of things we usually do.  Today we’re back to our two service schedule.  We’re kicking off Sunday School. We’re having a big Harvest Picnic after the 10:30 service that I hope to see everyone at. We’re doing these things because it’s part of who we are. Education is important here. Children and youth are important here. Faith formation is important here. Getting together and eating food - that’s important here too. And these things make Christ Lutheran who we are. 

And during the Harvest Picnic - you’ll see tables from various committees. You’ll see people telling stories that you might know and some stories that you might not. You’re gonna see invitations for new folks to take on new roles and help lead a bible study, maybe teach a Sunday School class, or try something new as we help our neighbors in Woodcliff Lake. And I invite everyone to maybe, just maybe, do something unexpected. Maybe sign up to help with a youth event even though you’re worried that your skills as a teacher are lacking. Maybe help setup for a CARE event even though you’re not sure what CARE is.  Maybe volunteer to mentor a confirmation aged youth or a new member - getting to know them and letting them get to know you - even if you don’t think you’re that interesting. Because, like this parable from Matthew - the center, the love song is in discovering how God works in unexpected ways; in discovering how God meets us in unexpected ways - in the pain, in the violence, in the joys, and in the just regular things we do everyday. The religious leaders couldn’t see the unexpected ways God was working in Jesus Christ. They couldn’t see that Jesus was about to die. They couldn’t imagine that God’s love song was going to cover everyone - from the outcast to the social elite - and that Jesus was going to reconcile the world. The story of God, the story of Jesus, the story of being the people of God is that God can be found in the unexpected places, in unexpected people, in unexpected experiences. Let’s see just what unexpected things God has planned for all of us gathered here at Christ Lutheran Church.