The Landowner’s Response – A Sermon on Matthew 21:33-46

October 1, 2017 ended up being a horrible day. It’s just that most of us didn’t know this until Monday morning because the massacre of 58 people and the injuring of about 500 more occurred after most of us had gone to bed.

Do you remember getting the news? I was up early on Monday because I go to a strength training class at 6am. So, at approximately 5am, I sat down with my coffee to watch the news and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Did any of you have this initial reaction of disbelief?

Megan texted me just before 7am to say that Ethan had gone to Vegas and to the show and that he wasn’t responding to texts. I told her to call his mom. About 10 minutes later she said he was ok…he hadn’t been at the concert when it happened.

Later in the day Matt, texted to say that Andrew, one of “the kids” from our old Simi Valley neighborhood was shot in the back. He survived. A friend’s niece was shot in the arm. Her dad prevented her bleeding to death with a correctly applied tourniquet as she had a severed artery.

This was very close to home for us. So close, that five of people who lost their lives Sunday night were from Ventura County. I don’t know how many from our county were injured. Pastor Bill Hurst at First Lutheran in Torrance wrote of the death of one of their former students. He also stated what has made this so personal, “everyone knows someone who knows someone.”

Do you?

A theme in our texts for today is the vineyard. It was a metaphor for Israel… for God’s people. But being the fallible human beings they were and we all are, they had great trouble living as God’s chosen people. It is hard to be a people set apart…to be an example for the world… to model justice. They struggled mightily.

Our text from Isaiah tells the story…”My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” But unfortunately the fruit from this vineyard wasn’t good…so the story describes the destruction of this vineyard…because God “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”

These are incredibly painful words for a people in exile. They are incredibly painful words for us today.

The psalm(80:7-15) that we read together is a prayer for restoration of the vineyard… for a restoration of a people. It is a prayer of hope.

Fast forward to Jesus and his disputes with the religious leaders in the temple and we get this parable about the vineyard. And maybe this is a parable for our day because, tragically, it is a story of fruitless violence.

It is a story of tenants having everything they need to prosper, yet not satisfied, and not willing to pay their share of the harvest, or rent. Instead they beat, kill and stone the first bill collectors. A second set of bill collectors received the same treatment as the first. I wonder, if the parable were told today… what weapons would be used?

Now in that culture the landowner would not have sent that second group of bill collectors. He would have sent an army and would have destroyed those tenants. But this landowner does something crazy and he sends more people. They meet the same fate. The he does something even more crazy and he sends his son. This would have been seen as foolish behavior. Sadly, this son is thrown out of the vineyard and killed as well.

What would you do if you were the father?

Today we have lots of fathers and mothers who are heartbroken over the deaths of their children. We have children lost and bewildered over the deaths of their parents. We have sisters and brothers and friends in great anguish this day. What would you do?

Jesus asks those religious leaders what the landowner would do. They respond as we might, “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.” Violence to repay violence… the human way.

But the father/land owner didn’t do this.

It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t really respond to their assumption that violence will beget more violence. Instead, he criticizes their inability to recognize they were standing in the presence of, and arguing with God’s son. Contextually this whole encounter began with their wanting to know who gave Jesus authority to say and do the things he said and did.

Jesus then gives an ominous warning that the kingdom will be lost and given to others for one reason. Those in the kingdom were not producing fruit.

I wonder if this causes you as much discomfort as it causes me.

It certainly caused discomfort among the religious leaders. Their discomfort lead to intense anger. These men (it would only have been men in those days) were so angry that they wanted to arrest Jesus. The only reason they waited was their fear of the crowds.

But later, when the crowds had dispersed, they arrested him. And they conspired with the Roman occupiers to kill him. Jesus’ words and actions angered them that much.

But still, Jesus didn’t say what the landowner did after the death of his son. I think that his response came later… when the parable became reality and the son of God was up on a cross dying. And from there he gives his opinion… his verdict… his plea:

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

That was Jesus’ response. What about the father? How did he react when his son was murdered outside the walls of the city?

From Matthew’s gospel.

Darkness came over the whole land for the last 3 hours of Jesus life. Three hours in which he suffered on the cross. Can you imagine that darkness? I think many can today.

When Jesus died the “curtain in the temple tore in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Can you imagine the intense feeling that would literally shake the earth? Maybe some can today.

But the father did not do what was expected. Nobody was killed in retaliation. Violence did not beget violence.

Instead, those who did not flee in fear cared for Jesus. They took his body off the cross and as best they could prepared it for a proper burial. They weren’t concerned for themselves but for what was right. Some of them, the women, were blessed to be the first witnesses of Jesus resurrection.

This care is the father’s response to horrendous violence.

We saw it this week when people ignored their own safety as they tried to help others. We saw it this week when strangers used their own vehicles (or borrowed what they could) to take the injured to the hospital. We saw it this week when so many people tried to donate blood the collection centers were overwhelmed. We saw it this week when people brought food to the hospital for waiting family members and to those who were waiting to give blood. We saw it this week when people donated funds to ease the financial burdens that accompany senseless violence. We saw all this in the past week, just as we always see people pull together in the midst of tragedy.

This is the response of the father…not vengeance but loving care among family, among friends, and among strangers. May this empower us to make needed change.

Amen

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