Epistle Lesson: Philippians 3:4b-14
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard 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 one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Lesson: 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.
If you may remember from out text last week, we overheard a conversation between Jesus and the Chief priests about the authority in which Jesus teaches. We may recall that this took place the day after Jesus had cleansed the temple so on and so forth. Our Gospel lesson today picks up right where we had left off. We are still placed in and among the temple, and the crowds are still all around them, and Jesus continues teaching with the Chief priests and the elders listening in on this teaching. Jesus puts before the crowds yet another parable. He places the story in yet another vineyard, again giving the crowds an insight into the kingdom of God through the ordinary life around them, and he continues to teach.
There is a landowner. The owner of this land takes his land and he begins to create a vineyard. Vineyards in the first century all had things in common. Much like how if I say that we are going to go to a Dairy Farm, you would expect to see certain things. You would expect to see a large red barn, you would expect to see fenced in fields, and somewhere on the land, there certainly would be a huge if not more than one Silo for feed. Well Jesus explains to them exactly these things, but instead of a dairy farm, he uses the image of a vineyard. Every vineyard you see would have rows of vines, a fence around it, a wine press in it, and a watch tower as well. These were just the common things in a vineyard. All of course had there own functions to the operations of the vineyard. Well, the land owner had made these things, put them into place, much like how God created this world in which we are in. This is of course the beginning of the parable, creation. In this parable, it says that the landowner leased it some tenants and went on to another country. Come harvest time, the landowner sends some slaves to gain the harvest of the fields, and two times the slaves he sent are beaten and killed. Now you see, this story is not just any story, but this is a story that has some history behind it. As we look closely into this parable, the slaves who were beaten and killed are very much like those prophets whom God, the land owner had sent to warn Israel, God’s people or in this case, these tenants. All too often, as we may recollect from the prophets of the Old Testament, the messages that they carried were hardly ever well received. According to the book of Hebrews, prophets endured all sorts of sufferings due to their prophetic voice. They were stoned to death, sawn in two, killed by sword, persecuted and tormented. (Hebrews 11:32-40).
So in this parable, after two sets of slaves had died, the land owner says that he is going to send his own Son, certainly they will listen to him. But in this parable, the tenants rather than respecting his Son sees it as an opportunity for them to gain the inheritance by killing this Son.
At this moment, Jesus pauses, as he talks about himself as the Son who was sent from the landowner and asks the crowds what is going to happen to those who killed the landowners son? They answered plainly, “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 then quotes from Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” As the chief priests and Elders have already shown the crowds that they do not agree with this man Jesus, here Jesus is telling the people that He, He is that chief cornerstone.
This parable as you may guess tells the story of salvation, it tells the story from the beginning of creation, through the prophets, and even mentions the Son that is being killed by these tenants whom the landowner had entrusted this vineyard to. Jesus, prophetically, tells of his own death through the telling of this parable. The tenants, those whom were entrusted with the vineyard, we who have been entrusted with God’s creation, sought after the inheritance, disobeying the landowners commands, sinning against God, we, our sinfulness killed the Son.
As I meditated and thought much about this parable, something very peculiar about this parable came to me that I want us to think about. Jesus never answers what happened to those tenants, he let the people answer. The way of the world is that the tenants would be sentenced to a miserable death and replaced by others. But Jesus does not go back to the parable, and does not give us closure on what happens to these wretched tenants.
However, as we look to Paul’s letter to the Romans, he argues, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” So even while Jesus is talking about the Pharisees not producing, those who were sinning against God by not doing the will of the Father, does Jesus die for to wash their Sins away. And it is from our Epistle lesson today do we come understand from where this righteousness comes from. Paul talks about himself and all the reasons he could boast about himself, but then says, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard 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 one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” Everything else does not matter, but our faith and God’s divine abundant grace given to those who have faith in God’s covenantal promise through Jesus Christ.
Today, as we celebrate World Communion Sunday, there are thousands of our brothers and sisters in the family of God who come to Christ’s table to remember God’s steadfast love, his promises to us, Christ’s teachings and the death he suffered for sinners…enemies of God such as you and I, and to come together united by God’s Spirit to commune as God’s holy church. And as Jesus used ordinary stories to reveal to the crowds the Kingdom of God, God uses these ordinary foods of bread and wine to reveal to us this Kingdom of His. We come to gather as a family, to receive of God’s grace, His grace that is plentiful and abundant.