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Lent 5 Sermon — Luke 20:9-20 (LSB Lent 5C)

March 21, 2010

March 21, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken in pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The parable that Jesus told against the scribes and chief priests differs greatly from the parable that we heard last week. Last Sunday, we heard all about the reconciliation of the Prodigal Son who was received by the Father into full sonship. Today’s Parable of the Wicked Tenants has no such ending. It isn’t a story that people love to hear and retell. In fact, you heard about the people’s reaction to Jesus’ parable: when confronted with the moral of the story, the people cry out: “Let it never be!” or as the ESV translation puts it: “Surely not!” But what the people do not want to see will be so. The Christ does not lie; what He says comes to pass. But He does not tell stories simply for shock value. Rather, it was to provoke such a reaction at the truth of the matter: the truth about Jesus and the authority that He bears.

Sometimes the truth is harsh. Jesus’ true story involves the history of Israel, even the sins of the fathers of the people to which He speaks. People do not like to hear about negative incidents in their family backgrounds. No one wants to have the names of their ancestors dragged through the mud, the skeletons of the family closet brought out for all to see. Yet that is what Jesus does, and the scandalous behavior of the Israelite rulers that He retells is shocking.

This is displayed in the characters of the parable. The vineyard represents the people of Israel. The owner of the vineyard is the Lord God Himself. The tenants are the priesthood and monarchy which were instituted to teach and lead the worship of the Lord’s people. And the servants of vineyard owner are the Old Testament prophets who were sent to bring the messages of the Lord to His people. They are sent to remind both rulers and commoners about the Lord God’s covenant with them and the identity that He gave them.

But what happens when the prophets are sent to Israel? What Jesus describes in the parable is not a good relationship between Israel’s rulers and the Old Testament prophets. In fact, it is a most negative relationship. What is told in story form happened to prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others in real life: “They were beaten, treated shamefully, wounded, and cast out empty-handed.” It happens all the way up to John the Baptizer and the rejection that he received. The priesthood and monarchy would not heed the message that the Lord God sent through the prophets, but “shot the messengers” instead.

Yet, the greatest injustice and scandalous behavior is not what the tenants do to the owner’s servants, but what they do to his son. Despite the knowledge of what happened to his servants, the owner decides to send his son with the same demand. His son is sent with the expectation that the tenants will not mistreat him: “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him,” says the owner. But the son is treated worse than the servants who were sent to the tenants: “When the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

Of course, this is more than a story. The sending and rejection of the owner’s son is also real. With His parable, Jesus is describing His rejection by the scribes and chief priests. The people entrusted with the care of the Lord God’s nation are even willing to murder His Son. They do so believing that the Son’s death will result in their full possession of the kingdom. And in their delusion, the tenants actually do it; they commit the unthinkable, crucifying the Son of the God who had done great things for them and made great promises to them. The Vineyard Owner will not endure this final insult and insolence: “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

This is the fate of the scribes and chief priests and all who murder the Son. Their status is lost. They have the vineyard removed from their care. They are killed for what they had done and left undone. And when such a fate is described and understood, the people do not want to see it: “God forbid it!” they say. Those who heard Jesus’ parable fully understood what it meant. They know who the characters represent. They comprehend the divine wrath it depicts.

But Jesus also says: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Though the Son is murdered and the scribes and chief priests are deposed, there is good to be found in the events that happen in Jerusalem. Despite the rejection of Jesus by the leaders of Israel, there is no change in His identity. He still is the Vineyard Owner’s Son; He still is the divinely-appointed Cornerstone. Even when the Father’s Son is thrown out of the city walls and crucified, the Father also remains the Lord of His people; He still has claim to them. And He still keeps the promises that He made.

That shows the ironic part of the parable. Christ’s story is full of rejection and death, yet it is precisely in those actions that a Church is built. He becomes the Cornerstone of an institution that the chief priests and scribes will have no place in, but that many of the hearers will. The tenants are replaced, but the vineyard remains; in fact, it becomes larger. For where the Israelites and their leaders fail to recognize that Jesus is the Son of God, the Promised Christ, an entire group of nations gladly believe that truth, finding their salvation in it.

Jesus’ parable comes true in the events of Holy Week. It is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which we heard this morning: “Behold, I am doing a new thing: I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people, the people whom I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise.” In just as picturesque words as Christ’s parable, the prophet Isaiah describes how the Lord God will be bringing a new group of people into fellowship with Him.

It is what has happened to you who were “wild beasts”: For you and your ancestors were once people content with living among the dead like jackals, sticking their heads in the ground like ostriches, ignorant of God and His way of life. But all that has changed, because the Eternal Father has expanded the boundaries of His vineyard; He has planted you in it. You have been called to believe in the Son whom the tenants rejected and murdered. You have been put under the watchful care of the new tenants: the apostles and their successors. Because you have faith in the Son’s authority and His works, you have access to all the blessings that the Lord God’s Kingdom of Grace provides.

St. Paul in the Epistle Reading described that: “For Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” The great apostle once had been in that group of former tenants who beat the owner’s servants and killed his son. But he was called to faith in Christ and numbered among the new group of tenants. Given that new way of life, he does not find shame in calling the despised, slandered, murdered Son his Lord.

So it is for you. You find no shame in the rejection of Jesus by the chief priests and scribes, though you may wish that no one would dare so. You do not consider Christ’s reputation in the eyes of others the reason why you believe in Him. To the contrary, you find His rejection and crucifixion to be the source of your salvation, just as our Lenten midweek homilies have shown the centrality of the cross to our Christian faith.

In His death, you find life. In His rejection, you find your acceptance. It is a paradox, but something which you hold dear. That understanding will take you through Passiontide, from this Sunday through Easter Sunday. Christ’s Parable of the Wicked Tenants may not be one that is loved to be heard often. Yet, you will gladly retell and rehear the rejection of Jesus: His betrayal, arrest, punishment, death, and burial. You do so, because you know that your salvation is found in these events. They are the cornerstone of your faith, a faith based on “the stone that the builders rejected, that has become the chief cornerstone.”

So your reaction to hearing Jesus’ parable isn’t: “May it never be!” Instead, you say: “Let God’s will be done.” For the end result is that the Lord God accomplishes His “new thing,” making you “His chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” You have been given a place in the Lord God’s Vineyard. You have become God’s people of every tribe and every nation who say: “The Lord has done great things for us, we are glad. The Lord has restored our fortune.”

As members of the Lord God’s Vineyard, you have been provided tenants to care for your eternal welfare: tenants who point you to the Son who accomplished His Father’s will; tenants who exercise the authority that is found in the crucified and risen Son; tenants who deliver the Son’s gifts to you. May you remain firmly anchored on Christ, the Chief Cornerstone, never rejecting Him, never forsaking Him for anything in this world. He has given you forgiveness, life, and salvation through His own rejection, death, and condemnation. Such is the lesson of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants: the story that accuses Israel’s leaders of unfaithfulness, but also the story that tells of the Father’s faithfulness to you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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