Matthew 21:33-46,

If anybody has ever compiled a list of odd people, the owner of this vineyard surely must have been on it!  He was not only extraordinary, he was amazingly strange, to say the least!  He wasn’t like that at the first, to be sure. In fact, he was wonderfully sensible, sane and levelheaded if the story is to be properly understood at all.

An Astute Beginning

The man must have been a person of means, for he planted an extensive vineyard requiring quite a staff of caretakers. He carefully guarded it with walls and a watchtower and even prepared for the time when the grapes could be harvested by digging a winepress within its framework.

Then he “leased it to tenants” while he traveled to “another country.”  He seems to have had total confidence in these tenants inasmuch as they were left to tend this newly planted vineyard for quite a long time before it was mature enough to bear grapes. During this time he had no inkling that they were doing or planning anything other than what was good for his vineyard.

The Astute Beginning Went Sour

It may have been because of that long time during which they labored long and hard to bring the vineyard to fruition, however, that they began to think of it as their own. The owner hadn’t shown up in a very long time, had shown little interest in the vineyard in general during his absence, and seemed to have virtually relinquished his rights of ownership to all intents and purposes.

It may have come as a surprise to those tenants, therefore, when the owner, who had kept track of the vineyard’s history enough to know that “the season for fruit drew near,” sent servants to claim the proceeds of the vineyard.  The tenants evidently had pretty much agreed by this time that they had every right to claim the vineyard for themselves inasmuch as it was their sweat, their labor, their tender care over the growing plants that had made the vineyard what it was by that time.

The tenants had worked themselves up into such a mental and emotional state around this idea that when the claimants for the master’s proceeds arrived they went far beyond any reasonable kind of rejoinder. In a frenzy they “took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.”  It is hard to imagine such an outpouring of resentment, bitterness and hatred.  After all, there would have been no vineyard whatever had this man who sent for a proper settlement of accounts not planted it, stood behind whatever had been necessary for its maintenance,  and had hired them as ones who were to care for it in his absence.  No vineyard, no jobs!  It was really quite simple.

That outpouring of violence, however, surely should have alerted the owner to the fact that his trusted custodians were no longer trustworthy.  In fact, one would have expected the vineyard owner to have called in the strong arm of the law in to punish these scoundrels when he received word of what had happened.

The Sour Turns Acidic

What one would expect of this owner, however, did not take place at all!  In fact, just the opposite took place. For reasons not revealed to us the owner “sent other servants, more than the first,” as debt collectors from this bunch of unruly tenants.  What an oddball landlord he turned out to be!

Did he perhaps think the tenants had mistaken the first group of debt collectors to be avaricious pretenders masquerading as envoys of the owner and they had, therefore, brutally beaten up on them as punishment for their deception?  Or did he recognize what he thought may have been some just grievances harbored by his tenants and decide to send a second round of messengers to hear the causes of their distress as a dimension of his request for the recompense rightly due him?

Whatever the cause – and the just-mentioned conjectures are, frankly, not at all likely – he foolishly sent still another set of servants to gather his rightful dues, only to have those servants equally maltreated.  Surely any right-minded master would have called in the law by this time.  He not only could have charged them with refusing to give him his lawful proceeds but also with molestation and murder of his servants.

Now the Story Turns Absolutely Bizarre

But did he do so?  Not at all!  In fact, now he did the most bizarre thing of all!  Here, above all, we see what an oddball of a master he was, for instead of calling the rogues to account, he gives them a last – and what he sees as an ultimate – proof of their esteem for him as the owner of the vineyard!”Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.'”

as he blind to what these keepers of his vineyard had become or was he willingly placing his son into the most extreme jeopardy imaginable?  Who knows?

What we do know, though, is that these custodians of his vineyard were not only filled with malice, but, even more, they had seen a “loophole in the law” that provided them with the opportunity to gain full claim to this vineyard that they had already surreptitiously claimed for themselves. “When the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’  And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

This was not merely a poorly played bluff, for we are told that there were actually escape clauses about the transfer of property in effect at the time.  These scalawags were not only meanly malevolent, but they were plotters and connivers on top of it all.  They had become so obsessed with it for themselves, all rights reserved. with the idea of owning this vineyard that they would go to any lengths necessary to claim  Even at the expense of the son’s life!

The Intention of the Parable Exposed

Whether Jesus’ listeners had been aware from the beginning of what or whom Jesus was speaking when he began this parable of this vineyard and its master (it was clearly pointing to Isaiah 5:1-6) or whether its intention had been sprung on them quite unawares, its intent had become quite plain to them as the story unfolded.”When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.”

In the same manner, you, too, may have guessed long ago who this master of the vineyard truly was, for surely by now it is plain to anyone paying attention to the parable at all that the son who was killed by the vineyard claimants was none other than the one who told this parable and his Father was the owner of the vineyard.

In one quick, sharply pointed story Jesus told the gospel in a nutshell!  God had been busily making himself known over centuries of history, and his best efforts had ended in disregard for and even the death of the prophets and other servants through whom God was calling his people to acknowledge his rightful place of ownership and claims on his people.  His final and ultimate appeal to his people had now unmistakably come through the one who stood among them as the Son whom they surely should have respected, listened to, and to whom they should have submitted themselves.

Instead, “when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’  And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”He even spoke of his recognition that his crucifixion would take place “outside the vineyard – outside the city walls of Jerusalem. How clearly he saw his future – and went to it without flinching.

Jesus’ Own “Interpretation” of the Parable

Jesus interpreted this parable in light of a passage from Psalm 118 in which the psalmist spoke of a rejected stone as becoming the chief stone in the building about to be built.  He clearly was presenting himself as that rejected stone which was to become the cornerstone of the church soon to be built around his suffering, death and resurrection.  In him “the kingdom of God” was being revealed – and anyone who rejects him can have no part in the kingdom that is built upon this “chief cornerstone.”

He who spoke this parable and then interpreted it presented a most remarkable image of this odd person who owned the vineyard.  What human owner would tolerate what this owner put up with in the sending of those two contingents to collect what was properly due him?  What human landlord, having seen what had happened to the first set of servants, for that matter, would have sent a second contingent on the same mission?  Those servants certainly must have been shaking in their boots!  What human proprietor in his right mind would then have sent his son to collect that for which everybody before him had died?

Even the people around Jesus agreed with the need for justice to be poured down on tenants such as these.  “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”  That is what they, themselves – the ones to whom Jesus pointed when he made his point quite clear – said about those tenants!  Surely we have here a most extraordinary owner of the vineyard – so extraordinary, in fact, that he actually points far beyond himself, as you have surely seen by now.

We Encounter a Scandalous God in This Parable

It does seem strange to speak of God as being represented by an “odd” owner of the vineyard who does such outrageous things as we hear about in this parable.  But here we encounter the most difficult thing to understand about the God who is revealed in his Son Jesus Christ who testifies to him.

God’s longsuffering patience, his grace before human rebellion, his unwearying willingness to remain steadfastly by mutinous people – these are characteristics we find in this strange owner of the vineyard – and they are the very characteristics of God, himself!  On earth he would, indeed, be considered the most odd of all people to act in the way the master in this parable acts. Who among us would send our son into this defiant nest of murderous people?

Yet that is precisely what the Father did!  He sent his Son into a den of murderers as the one who was to carry the burden of sin that rested on the shoulders of tenants such as these!  As Jesus had said a short time before this in connection with another incident, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:28)

The one who, by any earthly standards, should rightly call such reckless servants as those who refused the owner the just fruits of the vineyard he had so carefully prepared from its beginning should have – would have – called down the wrath of every legally authorized person on earth upon them, but he refused to do so in spite of everything.  He went to lengths no human would have stood for as he persistently asked for returns on his investment by wave after wave of bill collectors.  And finally, in the strangest gesture of all, he invested his own Son in the welfare of the world.

This is what makes our confession of God so outrageous!  He just refuses to act like we would in the face of insubordination – not only of those tenants in the parable but ours also!  Why do we not reap the just results of our sinfulness?  For what reason does God withhold his hand of judgment upon us when we refuse to listen to the words of his servants, not to speak of our willful going our own way  even though the man on the cross beckons to us to follow him?

We have grown so used to hearing about and living under the umbrella of God’s grace that we take it for granted.  The patience of this owner scandalizes us, in fact, when Jesus is actually telling us about a God whose compassionate hand has been placed on us in our baptism and who invites us to eat at a table whereupon food for which we are totally unworthy is presented for the strengthening of our labors in tomorrow’s vineyard.

The Vineyard of Our Lives

In this parable, spoken virtually in the shadow of the cross itself in the final week of Jesus’ earthly life, he presents us with a most marvelous picture of undeserved mercy by which we, who deserve nothing, are freely  given everything good and necessary for life.  How easily and how quickly we turn from that mercy in tending the vineyard of our lives as though we were accountable only to ourselves. We need the warning from time to time that “the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush  him,” lest we take this grace too much for granted.

The vineyard has fallen into our hands now. Jesus said to those who were standing under judgment, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” Many generations have tended this vineyard before us.  But now it falls into our hands. Therefore we need encouragement from time to time that our labor in the vineyard of our Lord has its own “reward” built into it.  It is not a reward for our faithful service, important though that is.  But the vineyard belongs to the Lord and he alone deserves the reward of its fruit – and, to be sure, he calls on us on occasion to show the fruit of his vineyard.  Our labor in that vineyard, though, is to betaken for granted from the time that the master first calls us to the tasks placed before us in life.

The reward lies merely in the doing itself of those things assigned to our lives in accord with where God has placed us in the larger scheme of things.  It lies in our glad relinquishment to the master that which is his without hesitation.  It is a “reward,” though, simply in the fact that, having done that to which we were called, our Lord is pleased to receive from our hand that which he placed at our disposal in trust from the time when he first called us.  We simply live in the confidence that his grace and mercy has not been showered upon us in vain.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This message from Pastor Hubert Beck is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]  A Pass it On Project ,  You can read more at E-Mail: [email protected]