Summary: A Sermon for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Series C preached 3/17/2013 at Emmons Lutheran Church, Emmons, Minnesota.
I don’t watch a whole lot of television anymore, but when I do get a chance to watch, one of the shows I get a kick out of are shows that talk about what we would call “dumb criminals.” Usually these are stories about people who commit crimes for rather unusual or illogical reasons, or do something rather ridiculous in committing a crime. A good example is something that made local and national headlines last fall and happened in McConnellsburg, where we had served before coming here. What happened was a 33 year old woman from McConnellsburg was arrested after she confessed to poisoning her live in boyfriend. The boyfriend’s doctor had been treating him for several years for nausea, vomiting, blood pressure problems, and breathing issues when the doctor decided to finally run some blood tests which revealed that the main ingredient for eyedrops was in his bloodstream. It turned out the girlfriend had been put eye drops into his drinking water 10 to 12 times in a nearly three year period of time. When asked why she did this, she said she didn’t intend for him to die or get extremely sick, she just wanted him to pay more attention to her. Her attempt at getting some more attention from her boyfriend ended up getting her 2-4 years in prison when she was sentenced about a month ago.
In today’s Gospel reading, we have a parable that basically falls into a similar category. Yet in this parable, Jesus has a very important warning to speak to us today, but also some great blessings.
In today’s parable, there is a man who owns and plants a vineyard, and then leases it out to some tenants while he goes away to another country and plans to be gone for a long time. Right off the bat, we’re told what the arrangement is for this particular situation: the man who planted the vineyard is the owner of it, it’s his vineyard, even though he has gone away. The tenants are the ones who will care for it and harvest the fruit when it’s ready, and in return, the owner expects to get whatever part of the fruit was in the lease. So when the time comes, the owner sends one of his servants to the vineyard, and what does he expect? He expects to have the servant bring back some fruit, right? But what happens? “But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty handed.” (v. 10b) In some cases, if a tenant were to do that, we’d expect the owner of the vineyard to kick the tenants out. Yet, we see the patience of the owner, as we’re told he sent out a second servant, who was treated “shamefully”, in other words, adding insults to the violence. Then a third servant is sent, and this one is wounded and cast out. In each case, the owner of the vineyard is giving the tenants another chance, and instead of paying the owner what is due, the violence in which they treat the servant, showing their contempt toward the owner, increases.
So finally, the owner decides “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him,” (v. 13) You could say it’s a final attempt to win over those tenants. And what do they do? This is where we see how if such programs existed in Jesus’ day, you’d likely see them on that “dumbest criminals” program. The tenants recognize that it’s the owner’s son and they say “This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.” (v. 14) And that’s exactly what they do, they drive the son out of the vineyard, and kill him. And the reason?
“If we kill the son, we get to keep the vineyard for ourselves!”
Think about this for a moment. They actually believe this! They aren’t thinking that “oh, wait, if we kill the son, the owner is probably going to come after us with a vengeance. We’ve already beaten three of his servants, escalating the violence each time, so we’re in enough trouble as it is, we’d better not do this.” They aren’t thinking about what might happen to them if they actually kill the son. Sin has so warped their thinking that they truly believe if they kill the Son, then the owner has no choice but to give them the vineyard. That things will be the way that they want them to be. That they won’t have to give the owner what’s properly his.
It’s at this point that Jesus then asks the rhetorical question: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” (v. 15b) In other words, the owner has finally had it. The tenants were graciously given time after each servant was sent away empty handed to repent and give him what was properly his. To be able to remain in the vineyard and keep the blessings that go along with it. Yet, they have forgotten one important part: the vineyard isn’t theirs. It never was. They were merely entrusted to it for a time and were to hand over to the owner what was already his. And in each case, they failed. And in killing the Son, they show their complete disregard for the owner, truly believing “if we kill the Son, we get to keep the vineyard!” But of course what’s reality? The wicked tenants will be destroyed and the vineyard let out to other tenants who will live by the covenant that is the lease.