“Taken Away”

Matthew 21:33-46

October 8, 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 21:33-46

“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.

 

 

Prayer.

 

A week ago yesterday

We were closing up the cottage for the winter.

It was forty-seven degrees, cold and wet.

As I went about my business taking out the water line

And storing outdoor furniture inside,

 

 

I wondered about the in-the-ground hornets’ nest just beneath the kayak. 

It appeared as if there was no activity.

Given the cold day,

I stuck the handle of a rake into the hole.

Wow.

Was I ever surprised!

 

I stirred up a hornet’s nest just like Jesus.

 

 

In consecutive weeks,

We’ve followed Jesus in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11),

Up and into the Temple, where he overturned the money changer’s tables (21:12-17).

He confronted the Chief Priest and his Sadducee henchmen,

Countering their question with a hand grenade question about John’s baptism, making them appear like stooges (21:23-27).

He followed up by telling them a parable about two sons,

Comparing them to liars who say one thing and do another,

And he tells them that prostitutes and tax collectors will enter into the kingdom of heaven before them (21:28-32).

 

As if this wasn’t enough.

Jesus follows up with today’s parable about a landowner and wicked tenants. (21:33-46)

Next Sunday he tells another parable about a wedding banquet. (22:1-14)

In two weeks the confrontation in the Temple will conclude with

His answer to the Chief Priest about paying taxes. (22:15-22)

 

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Hold on tight!

 

What interests me in this verbal confrontation

 

 

Is how do we make what Jesus teaches

Relevant to your life and mine?

 

Today, Jesus tells a parable that appeals to every Jewish mind;

A straight forward parable

About a landowner who leased his vineyard to wicked tenants.

Leasing land to tenant farmers was

A common practice in the time of Jesus.

 

 

Jesus’ parable harkens back to Isaiah 5:1-7.

The prophet Isaiah tells of a vineyard owner

Who cleared a hill, planted a crop, built a protective wall around it, constructed a watchtower, and expected the new vineyard to produce grapes.

Instead it yielded wild grapes.

 

Bleh!

 

“What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?”

the vineyard owner laments? (Isaiah 5:4a)

So he removes the wall that the vineyard might be trampled down.

He refuses to prune or hoe it, to make it waste.

And he commands the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

Isaiah concludes,

 

 

“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.” (Isaiah 5:7)

 

Of course,

Isaiah was speaking God’s judgment

Upon His own chosen people,

Who were behaving unrighteously, living opposed to God’s Law,

And turning their backs on justice.

In return, Isaiah sees impending bloodshed

At the hands of invading Assyrians

And exile into foreign slavery …

Which they got, in spades.

 

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God expects justice.

God expects righteousness.

 

It is out of this context from Isaiah 5

That Jesus tells a new parable

About a landowner and his vineyard.

 

 

Jesus paints the tenants as wicked,

Killing the landowner’s slaves, not once, but twice,

Then killing the landowner’s son,

Expecting to get his inheritance.

When the landowner comes, Jesus asks the Temple authorities,

“What will he do to those tenants?” (21:40)

 

Before they can figure out his message,

They instinctively respond,

“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.” (21:41)

 

I’d like to think that Jesus paused here,

A nice juicy, pregnant pause,

Allowing the realization to sink in,

Giving them the opportunity to come to the ironic conclusion

That they had just condemned themselves.

Jesus paints the Temple authorities as the wicked tenants.   

 

 

God expects justice.

God expects righteousness.

They have done neither.

 

Unlike Isaiah who prophesied death and exile,

Jesus pronounces judgment upon the Temple authorities by saying,

 

 

“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.” (21:43)

 

Killing Jesus upon a cross,

Publicly humiliating him for all to see,

Was an intentional act of injustice,

And it was a rejection of God.

The tragedy of the cross is this:

The leaders should have known better.

They go and conspire to murder him anyway.

 

There are consequences for rejecting God.

Don’t be the one others point to and say,

“He should have known better.”

Or “She should have known better.”

 

 

The prophet Isaiah know what it looks like to be a tenant in God’s vineyard:

“Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.” (Isaiah 56:1)

 

Likewise, the prophet Micah knows what it looks like to be a tenant in God’s vineyard:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

 

Truth is,

God’s will,

To be just, to advocate for justice,

To follow God’s Law and live a righteous life,

To accept the Lord, and to worship only him,

Lays a claim on our lives and actions.

Knowing what God wants us to do is great,

But sometimes we don’t like it.

Sometimes we oppose God’s will

Because it conflicts with our selfish will and carnal desires.

We aren’t the first to rebel against God,

Neither will we be the last.

 

Instead of thinking that living a life consistent with God will

As being suffocating or confining,

 

 

Consider the freedom that is given

When we live inside God’s vineyard

And produce good fruit.

The freedom that God gives

Is far more abundant and satisfying

Than the freedom granted by patriots or any government or land.

The freedom God gives is eternal.

 

True freedom,

The kind that only God grants when we follow His will,

 

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Ends senseless bloodshed,

Heals every wound,

And dries every tear.

This true freedom is in great need in our land in these traumatic times.

(Yes, I am speaking about the massacre in Los Vegas last Sunday)

 

True freedom,

Ends the bloodshed,

Heals every wound,

And dries every tear.

 

When we live in God’s vineyard and serve as good tenants,

Producing abundant fruit,

 

 

We love God:

We have no other gods,

We do not take the Lord’s name in vain,

And we keep God’s Sabbath day holy.

(Exodus 20:1-11)

 

When we live in God’s vineyard and serve as good tenants,

 

 

We love our neighbors:

We honor our father and mother.

We do not murder, steal from others, or commit adultery.

We tell the truth.

And we do not covet other people’s property.

(Exodus 20:12-17)

 

Living in God’s vineyard

Will place us last in line,

According to many of the standards established by society today.

When we do God’s will,

Act righteously,

And live lives committed to justice,

The last will be first,

And the first will be last,

When we come into God’s kingdom.

 

Jesus warned those first in line,

Who produced no fruit, and

Who were trampling his vineyard,

“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.” (21:43)

 

Here then, is the point of Gospel relevance:

 

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What does living in God’s vineyard look like to you?

What can you do to produce good fruits of God’s kingdom?

Amen.