“The Tenants of the Vineyard” – Luke 20:9-19
Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 13, 2016
“The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people.” -Luke 20:19
They — the Jewish leadership — knew Jesus was talking about them. Jesus told the gathered crowd a parable about a vineyard. In the parable the owner of the vineyard leased the property to tenants, for which the owner would receive a percentage of the production. At harvest time the owner sent representatives to check on the vineyard and its tenants and to collect the agreed upon percentage of the profits. To the owner’s shock his representative returned to him beaten, bruised, and empty-handed! The owner sent a second, then a third representative to collect what was due, but they too returned beaten and empty-handed. Finally the owner sent his own son, thinking that the tenants surely would respect him and honor the contract. The tenants not only beat the son, but murdered him, inexplicably imagining that somehow with the son out of the picture the vineyard would be left to them. Concluding his parable, Jesus asked, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants? He will come and destroy them and give the vineyard to others.”
The priests and scribes knew that Jesus was talking about them. It wasn’t a difficult conclusion to arrive at. Isaiah the prophet, writing seven centuries before Christ’s birth, wrote: “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hill… The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5.) And the 80th Psalm says, “You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land.” Like an orchardist planting of a rare and precious vine into a newly prepared orchard, God rescued Israel from bondage in Egypt and transplanted her into the promised land of Canaan. Yet the Old Testament history of Israel is shockingly clear: The Israelites turned to other Gods and rejected the covenant of the Lord made with the Fathers. So God expelled the Israelites from the promised land and scattered them through the massive empires of the Assyrians and Babylonians.
In Jesus’ day Israel was only a fragment of the great empire it had been in the days of David and Solomon. The remnant of scattered Jews who had returned to Jerusalem had not learned from the sad history of their ancestors. They too were apostate, having twisted God’s religion of grace into a religion of slavish obedience to rituals and man-made laws and ordinances. So blind were the Jews of Jesus’ day that when he— the promised Messiah– arrived, they did not even recognized him. Instead they opposed him, schemed against him, slandered and ridiculed him. The vineyard planted by the hand of God once again was producing only sour, poisonous fruit. And God was about to come in judgement on his apostate people Israel one last time.
Yes, the priests, the scribes, the Jewish establishment realized that Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard was a parable about them. And they didn’t like it. They might have listened, and looked inside themselves, and realized the error of their ways, and repented, and rejoiced in the forgiveness of their gracious God. But they didn’t do that. Instead they conspired against the Owner of the vineyard and killed the son he had sent to them.
Now the old covenant Israel is gone. Now we, the Christian Church, are the Israel of God. We are the vineyard of the Lord. He has planted each one of us, calling us to faith through the Gospel, planting faith in our hearts, making us members of his kingdom. He looks for fruit in his plantings. Where he finds nothing but poison, he is still able to uproot and destroy. But where he finds the fruit of faith in Christ, he forgives, feeds, strengthens, nourishes, and provides growth. Through baptism you are a planting in God’s vineyard. Through the Gospel and the Sacraments you are watered, and nourished, and growing into a vibrant vine, bearing precious fruit. God has planted His Word in you so that you do not repeat the fatal mistakes of the Israelites. You know the true God and you worship Him alone. You recognize only His Word, the Bible, as the pure truth of God. You know that where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation. And empowered by that Gospel you awaken each new day to live your life in faith in Christ and in faithful obedience to His Word.