Summary: A sermon on Luke 20:9-19 preached in a Sunday morning worship setting.
Meditation on Luke 20:9-19; Pastor Edgar Mayer; Wilsonton/Glencoe Parish; 29.3.98; 5th Lent
"Heavenly Father, in this time of Lent help us to confront our shortcomings before you. Amen."
We know that Australia has its share of corrupt politicians. That's not especially new and we won't adopt a holier-than-thou attitude but what I always find astonishing is that once they're caught, they hardly ever face up to their corruption. Remember the politician who used party donations to buy himself a nice stamp collection? Challenged in court: "Wouldn't you say that you're actions were wrong?" He simply replied: "Surely not. Surely my actions weren't wrong. I just invested the money for the party."
It's an incredible answer. It ignores all the evidence. He was caught in the act but refused to acknowledge any personal guilt. How can he think to get away with it? That puzzles me and may be it puzzles all of us but we'll see that such excuses and denial of guilt are not that uncommon. Jesus had to deal with an incredible response to the parable he just told. Let's hear the parable again and then the people's response.
Jesus said: "A man once planted a vineyard and rented it out. Then he left the country for a long time. When it was time to harvest the crop, he sent a servant to ask the tenants for his share of the grapes. But they beat up the servant and sent him away without anything. So the owner sent another servant. The tenants also beat him up. They insulted him terribly and sent him away without a thing. The owner sent a third servant. He was also beaten terribly and thrown out of the vineyard.
The owner then said to himself: 'What am I going to do? I know what. I'll send my son, the one I love so much. They will surely respect him!'
When the tenants saw the owner's son, they said to one another: 'Some day he will own the vineyard. Let's kill him! Then we can have it all for ourselves.' So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him."
That's the parable and in conclusion Jesus asked: "What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? I'll tell you what. He will come and kill those tenants and let someone else have his vineyard." We no longer have the death penalty but what Jesus said, still sounds logical. Tenants who beat and batter others and finally kill a man deserve death themselves.
That was certainly logical 2000 years ago, but listen to the people who responded to Jesus. They must have had a twisted sense of justice. They cried: "Surely not. Surely the tenants are not going to get killed. That sentence is too harsh. They were not that bad."
An incredible response by the people. What happened here? Were they so slow on the uptake or were there deeper reasons for their bias? How could they reject a just verdict when the evidence was so compelling?
They could because they sensed something terrifying. The parable which Jesus had told was not just a dramatic story. It touched on real life. The one who told the parable and his audience were both involved in the parable itself.
Jesus is the Son of the vineyard owner. The Son who is going to get killed. And Jesus' audience are the tenants who will kill him. God the Father who is the owner of the vineyard gave his tenants everything – everything to make a living. All he expected was his share of the good things that came from his gifts. He wanted that people give something back to him – something from their prosperity, their time, their love, but instead they didn't want to give anything back and in their drive to keep everything for themselves they were going to kill God's Son.
That's what people sense the parable is on about. They already felt a growing resentment toward Jesus and maybe they were not sure how far this resentment would go. As Jesus tells it, it will go as far as murder. That's the real life situation behind the parable.
Now it's very easy for us to say, we wouldn't be like the unjust and cruel tenants. We would give the owner of the vineyard his share of the crop and not kill his Son. But is that really so? Are we doing that in our every day lives? Isn't it rather true that we likewise severe the bond between us and God? When we have great success at work, when our business survives despite the drought, when our children turn out great, do we give God his due or do we hold on to all the goods ourselves? We are great in enjoying the fruits of success ourselves. We pat ourselves on the back and let others know how smart we are, what great foresight we had. There is just no glamour in saying: "I don't know how this all happened. God must have had a hand in it."