The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Matthew 21:33-43
The Vineyard, Servants, & the Heir
Proper 22 A, 02 October 2011, LWML Sunday
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
"Hear another parable…But 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. When therefore 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 let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."
This is the Gospel of the Lord? Well, yes. Earlier this morning when I spoke those words, the word “Gospel” refers to Gospel in the sense of coming from the whole of the teaching of our Lord. The Master of the House showed remarkable patience and longsuffering to the tenants, but in the end no Gospel in the narrow sense—meaning the forgiveness of sins—to the persistently wicked tenants.
As always, our Lord’s Words to us each Lord’s Day are food for thought, Bread of Life, which renews our minds. I didn’t appoint this text to be read this day. That was done for me by the lectionary. But what food for thought it is!
Jesus’ parable is one calling for repentance. Who would want the punishment given at the end? "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." The parable warns us that this is the punishment for those who act as did the first tenants. We Christians can learn much from…
The First Tenants…
…the house of Israel, the men of Judah—Jesus’ people, the Jews. This is not the first time that the Lord has spoken of a vineyard. He blessed the people of Israel so that they would be a blessing. Israel was His lovingly prepared vineyard and it yielded only wild grapes. The vineyard of Israel was spoiled by the people, just like Eden was ruined by Adam’s sin.
With that context, do you remember Isaiah 5, the Old Testament reading this morning? The Lord presents His case against Israel as if in a court of law. What more was there to do for my vineyard…? Judge for yourselves, He says. That means the answer is obvious. The Lord is loving, but He is also just. Trespasses against His righteousness must be dealt with. There must be justice in addition to His love.
So we have Jesus tell the parable. Can you picture in your mind how the faithful Old Testament prophets of the Lord were ignored and abused? And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.
God blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and by the time of Moses, their descendants had forgotten about how the Lord had blessed their vineyard. Their grumbling against the Lord’s servant, Moses, was to the point that a whole generation would pass away before the people entered the promised land. Judges weren’t good enough for them. They wanted a king. And kings were given them. They sinned. First Saul, then David’s adultery and murder, and Solomon’s sin of going after false Gods. King after king in the then divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah sinned, worshiped false gods, wrongly combined the worship of those false gods with that of the True God, or ignored the True God altogether. Wicked rulers persecuted prophets with words of warning and worse. Eventually, the northern kingdom fell and the south was taken into captivity. The Lord sent His servants, but they were ignored, but not by all individuals. But as a people, the kingdom was taken away from them. And still the Lord preserved a faithful remnant.
Pastors are Servants
Pastors are literally shepherds. The Latin, German, and English words spelled p-a-s-t-o-r each mean the same thing—shepherd. Shepherds carry a crook—the staff end to pull sheep out of danger, the rod end to beat away wolves. Pastors are never to beat the sheep with the rod. Pastors are not kings. They’re not CEOs either. They are not to lust after power. They are servants—servants with authority. They first serve the Lord by being servants of His Word, and that is how a pastor best renders service to the place the Lord calls him. The authority is only the Word of God. The Lord has use of the ones He has placed into the office of the Holy Ministry.
Christians hear the horror stories of pastors abusing their office and of congregations abusing their pastors. The burnout rate among Christian clergy is rather high. Even the joke about pastors only having to work one hour a week fits into this.
When a pastor is installed, the congregation he is given to serve is asked a few questions: “Will you receive him, show him that love, honor, and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over you by your Lord Jesus Christ, and will you support him with your gifts and pray for him always that in his labors he may retain a cheerful spirit and that his ministry among you may be abundantly blessed?” The people respond: “We will, with the help of God.”
“Will you honor and uphold your pastor as he serves Christ in all his God-pleasing responsibilities? Will you aid him as he cares for his family? Will you be diligent to ‘put the best construction on everything,’ recognizing that ‘love covers up a multitude of sins?’ Once again the people respond: “We will, with the help of God.” (LSB Agenda, 180)
It has been two and a half years since we heard those paragraphs in this room. I pray we may continue to serve together for many more! And, hear them again as our Assistant Pastor is installed soon!
Remember, your pastor is human, too. He is a servant with authority in the office of the Holy Ministry, not Superman, not Mr. Holy. He is a sinner in need of forgiveness just like you are. Do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it! That is the best thing you can do to support any faithful pastor.
The Tenants’ Counter-Example
We can learn much from the counter-example of Israel, the tenants, who despised the preaching of God’s holy prophets and ignored God’s Word to them. And then, Jesus came. 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 have his inheritance.' And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore 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 let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."
All of the first Christians were Jewish. All the disciples were Jewish. All of the authors of the New Testament with the possible exception of Dr. Luke were Jewish. Church historians tell us that one million Jews were Christian by the end of the first century. Not every Jewish person was a wicked tenant.
Even so, as a nation, Israel rejected Jesus. The elders, chief priests, scribes, and teachers of the law along with temple employees and average people put Jesus to death because He threatened their future in the vineyard. We Christians, i.e., Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile believers together, are the new Israel, the Holy Christian Church, the new tenants.
It Is Marvelous in Our Eyes
It is marvelous in our eyes to behold the salvation of our Lord. All has been planned in advance. Nothing is left to chance. The Lord sent His Son, identified later by the prophet Isaiah as the Suffering Servant. This servant is Jesus, the Heir to the Vineyard, the heir to David’s throne.
Remember the timing of Jesus’ words, His parable. Jesus has entered Jerusalem on a donkey and hailed as the Son of David. He has just cleansed the Temple and cursed the fig tree. The chief priests and elders have challenged His authority. And they are listening. And they will be plotting to kill Him. Our Lord knows this. He even foretells His death in the parable: 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 have his inheritance.' And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
The past tense verbs of the parable are future tense from Jesus’ own perspective then. He knew they would come to pass. He knew they would reject Him. He knew that the Lord would reject them so that all nations might become new tenants.
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 marvelous in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
These are the fruits of faith born of the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit. The classic Lutheran confession, the Augsburg Confession, says this about the Office of Preaching: (AC V, German, Kolb ed.) To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe.
Pastors are the Lord’s instruments. Pastors are servants with authority. The Lord has His use of such a one when His gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and His sacraments are administered in conformity with the divine Word.
See all the blessings He has laid out before you, a planted vineyard with a protective fence, a winepress and tower and generous lease. Remember the counter-example of the previous tenants and repent lest we become like them. Remember that your pastor is the Lord’s servant who will serve best when he and his family are cared for, in contrast to those who mistreated the Owner’s servants. Above all, cherish Christ your cornerstone, upon whom your salvation is built by the Lord’s doing. The Lord creates, gathers, and sustains you, His Christians, the new tenants of the vineyard, building His kingdom upon the cornerstone of Christ. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.