Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020 Year A
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Over the years many parables in the Bible have been given titles to help us interpret the meaning of the parable. For example, there is the “Parable of the Good Samaritan,” and the “Parable of the Sower,” and the “Parable of the Lost Sheep.” The title given to each parable helps us focus in on the message that Jesus was conveying to His audience.
Today we have one of the parables that Jesus told to help us understand God and life in Gods’ Kingdom. It has often been entitled “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.” And yes, when we read the parable, the tenants are wicked, and cruel, and bloodthirsty because they kill the landowner’s slaves, and his son. The tenants are indeed bad characters and not people that we would want to be like in God’s Good Creation.
But sometimes, the titles given to parables can lead us astray and distort the meaning of the parable. And today, we have one example of a title leading us astray from the meaning contained in the parable.
If I were asked to give a title to the parable, I would not call the parable “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” but “The Parable of the Hopeful Landowner.”
Why? Because ultimately the parable is not about the tenants but the landowner. And so today, I would like to shift your attention away from the tenants and focus on the landowner.
The parable begins by informing us that the landowner leased some property to a group of tenants with the intention that the tenants would till the land and produce a crop of grapes that the tenants could use to pay the money that they owed on the land that they leased.
But things did not turn out as expected. When the landowner sent his servants to collect the money owed for their use of the land, the tenants beat and killed the servants.
So, the landowner sent more servants, hoping that the tenants would do the right thing and turn over the agreed upon fee for their use of the land.
But this did not happen, and the tenants beat and killed these servants also. So, what does the landowner do? The landowner sends his son (his heir, his child, the one that he loves) to collect the amount owed for the use of the land. He did this because, in his words, “They will respect my son.”
And what did the tenants do? When the son went to the vineyard to collect the amount owed, they seized him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
Yes, the tenants are wicked people. And I can see why people would entitle the parable “The parable of the Wicked Tenants.” But, throughout the parable, the landowner is hopeful that the tenants would do the right thing and turn over the amount owed for their use of the land.
The landowner does not give up hope that things can be worked out, and that the tenants would change their ways and do what is right. The landowner is so hopeful, so optimistic, so patient, that it all seems so ridiculous to us when we hear the parable. In our minds we ask… “Why doesn’t the landowner use physical means to evict the tenants or the law process to assert his rights to the agreed upon lease?”
But the landowner does none of the things that you or I would do to protect our interests. Instead the landowner holds out hope that the tenants will give him what he is owed. And this does not make sense to us. In fact, it seems insane. You know the saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” But that is what the landowner does, at least for the time being.
And that is where the Good News fits in our parable this morning. Because the parable is not really about a group of tenants and a landowner, but about you and me and God. We are the tenants in God’s Vineyard.
We are the tenants who have been placed in God’s Good Creation to care for, and till, and enjoy and share the fruits of the harvest with each other and in service to and thanks for God’s redeeming Activity.
As our offertory verse this morning states “We give thee but thine own, what’er the gift may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.”
Unfortunately, we are a bloodthirsty people. And we substitute violence for doing what is right. We return kindness with evil actions. We are the tenants, the people who killed the son, the people who would rather crucify than believe and trust in the One sent to us from God.
If we are the wicked tenants, then God is the hopeful landowner. God is the One who has sent us his messengers again, and again, and again. God is the One who keeps believing that we will one day turn from our evil ways. God is the One who sent His Son knowing full well that we are a bloodthirsty people, yet still hoping that we will change.
God could have given up on us. God could have called the whole thing off and used whatever means He thought necessary to evict us from His Good Creation. But God did not do this. In spite of all that we have done, God is still hopeful. After all the evil that we have accomplished, God still offers us grace and life and salvation.
The parable is about God. The parable highlights how generous God is to us. The parable offers us encouragement and hope as we struggle to live out our lives today.
And that is why I would entitle this parable “The Parable of the Hopeful Landowner,” so everyone will focus on the Redeeming Activity of God and the hope given to us through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray: God of mercy, you know us better than we know ourselves, and still you love us. Wash us from all sins, create in us clean hearts, and strengthen us by your Holy Spirit, that we may give you praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.