Jesus tells yet another parable. And listening this time – apart from us – were those who were trying to catch Jesus out by their tricky questions. So, Jesus tells them the parable. They soon figure out that it’s about them.
You know the story: There was a landowner who developed land for a vineyard. He leased the property to tenants. Then when the harvest was ready and he was due his share, he sent people to get what was owed him. The tenants seized the landowner’s people and beat them. Again, he sent another group and the same thing happened. And then finally, he sent his own son with the thought that the tenants would not abuse his very own son. But, they killed him.
So, “What should happen to the tenants?” Jesus asks.
“Put them to a miserable death and get proper tenants,” they say.
Those who were listening knew that it was about them. We know it is an allegory. The vineyard is Jerusalem, the tenants are the religious authorities, the people whom the landowner sent are the prophets. And the son is Jesus himself.
The prophets of old were not soothsayers who foretold the future as if a horoscope. They were deeply immersed and concerned with what was happening in their own times. What they foresaw were the consequences that they believed were imminent if things in their world were not to change. The destruction of the temple was one such consequence. The first temple was destroyed around 598 BC by the Babylonians. It was soon rebuilt and the second one – to which the parable alludes – was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans.
Most of the general population in Jerusalem saw Jesus as a prophet. So they would understand Jesus’ warning that, if corruption and false religion were to continue, there would be grave consequences. On top of the reference to the Temple – the focal point of Jewish religion – Jesus also foreshadows his own crucifixion as a consequence.
What we don’t hear about in the gospel parable today is why would the landowner continue to send his people into the fray where the tenants slaughtered them. Why would he have even sent his own son? Why would he send all of them including his own son to those who were rejecting him?
Jesus doesn’t really finish the parable and he doesn’t answer that question. All he says is a quote from Psalm 118: “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’?”
As we get closer to the end of the liturgical calendar or the church year in approaching the beginning of Advent, there are references in some of the readings about Holy Week and the Easter Event.
That’s the glimpse that we are able to see more than would the people of the day have been able to see. For the people of the day, it had not yet happened; but for us, we can see, in the parable, a glimpse of the Passion of Christ: Good Friday through to Easter Sunday. We know those events and the quotation from the psalm reminds us of it or begins to prepare us for it once again.
The world, at least as far as I have experienced it over the years in the crucible of ICU’s, in the events of people’s lives, in world events, and in my own experiences of ups-and-downs, is not a sharply defined world. It’s not all that clear it seems to me. It’s more about an intermingling of greys instead of clearly identifiable colours.
So, we also are in the parable today. It is not always easy – or not ever easy – in the murkiness of the world, to be in touch always and completely with the teachings of Jesus. We can’t always and we don’t always put the teachings into action. We struggle in a confusing world—shaded in greys. But still God reaches out to us as did the landowner in the parable. God even sent his own son whom the people of the day rejected. And, we recognize that part in ourselves each Good Friday when we become abundantly conscious of our humanity and our complicity and of our profound need for God.
We don’t always see the brokenness in the world and we don’t always respond. We don’t always hear the cries for help and we don’t always take action. We have a hard time seeing the words of the prophets written on the subway walls – or on a close-by bus shelter.
The gem of the parable is this: God sent us his Son so that we know that he never, never, never gives up on us at whatever cost. He sent his Son to us so that we know that we are understood, we are accepted, we are loved, and we are over and over again forgiven and encouraged to go on.
The good news is that, by knowing that you and I are forgiven, we can learn, grow, and become more able to see and respond to the inequities that break people and that break the world. Through being healed of our own brokenness, we become more able to bring healing to others and to do our small part in bringing healing to a broken world.
We may even be rejected in the world for trying. But remember this: then you will know what it was like to be the stone that was rejected …and then… then you will know what it means to be the stone that is rejected… and to be walking in the steps of Jesus.
Have you not heard in the teachings: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”.
The Rev'd W Glenn Empey