18th Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2020
“So Painfully Obvious”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson previously read from Matthew chapter 21.
My dear friends,
Well, here we are. More than 275 days into the year 2020. What do you think so far? Yeah…me too. It’s painfully obvious that there has been nothing fun or funny about this year. It is so painfully obvious…the year 2020 has been one of the most difficult and challenging years in modern history. It’s been at least 19 years, since September 11th, 2001, that America has felt and seemed so low and maybe things have not been this anxious since America was attacked by Japan in 1941 and was suddenly and painfully thrust into World War II. It’s painfully obvious…we’re at a significant low point in American history.
The year even started with a crash…literally. America was stunned when legendary NBA star Kobe Bryant was killed along with his daughter and seven others when their helicopter crashed in California on January 26th. About that same time we started hearing about a deadly virus that had emerged in Wuhan, China. In a matter of weeks, the virus spread across the globe to more than 33 million people, resulting in more than 1 million deaths.
In a single day in March, amid Coronavirus fears, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged almost 3000 points in the worst drop in 30 years. But we’re Americans…we began to adapt. Then, just about the time we figured out how to live life “virtually” – virtual meetings, graduations, visits, worship services, etc. – that all came to a screeching halt. In May, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis during an encounter with police that was caught on video. Suddenly, the floodgates were opened. Streets left barren during weeks of Coronavirus lockdowns were filled night after night with thousands of protesters and violent clashes between demonstrators and police. Rioters and looters and violent criminals have been and are tearing up our communities and businesses. Wildfires are burning the West Coast down, with no end in sight. It is so painfully obvious that the year 2020 has been especially difficult to put it mildly.
What is equally, painfully obvious is who and what today’s parable is about. Last week we heard the Parable of the Two Sons in which Jesus took a subtle “swipe” at the religious leaders. This week? Nothing subtle about it; Jesus is in full-on attack mode. When our Lord tells the “Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” it’s painfully obvious that God takes away the kingdom from unfaithful Israel and will be given to another faithful people.
Jesus’ description of the preparation of a vineyard for production conforms to the practices known from that time period. Stone walls were built around vineyards to protect them from thieves and wild animals, and some larger vineyards had their own winepress built on-site and even watchtowers for added security. It was common in ancient Israel for a wealthy landowner to employ a farmer or rent out his vineyard to tenants if need be. So far, so good.
However, the peaceful scene of a vineyard rented out to tenants turns ugly. With the arrival of harvest time, the landowner sends his servants to the tenants to collect the portion of the fruit that belongs to him. Then, the unthinkable occurs: “The tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.” Absentee landowners were notorious for their harsh treatment of their tenants, but here the scene is reversed, and the landowner’s servants are abused when they come to collect a portion of the harvest. The landowner continues to send servants to collect what is rightfully his, but each servant is treated the same way (22:37). It is so painfully obvious that the treatment of these “servants” calls to mind the same fate that befell God’s prophets throughout Old Testament history.
Finally, the landowner sends his own son to make a collection, saying, “They will respect my son.” Again, this is a painfully obvious allusion to God the Father’s sending his Son, Jesus. Then the narrative turns unthinkably ugly when the tenants say, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance” (v. 38). As if it worked that way! It makes no sense, but that’s what they did. They killed the son.
Then Jesus posed the question about what to do with the tenants. The answer was painfully obvious…“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” (v. 41). Exactly. Good answer.
It is so painfully obvious what this parable is really all about. The master is God the Father. The richly-appointed vineyard is the equally richly-blessed Israel. The tenants are the phony religious leaders and unbelieving Israelites. The messengers are the prophets of the Old Testament age. And, obviously, the son in the parable is Jesus Himself, the “stone that the builders rejected (that became) the cornerstone” (v. 42). The meaning is painfully obvious. God the Father richly blessed His people and gave them ample and abundant opportunities to produce the fruits of repentance and faith. Instead, they rebelled and killed the prophets continually sent to them (23:37). In an effort to save them all, God sent His Son Jesus to provide the very-best chance at repentance and to provide the fruits of the harvest. Instead, they would kill Him too.
Jesus tells this parable even though it is so painfully obvious that He knows His passion, death, and resurrection are less than a week away. But Jesus endured. He endured the whip, the thorns, the nails, the cross, and the grave. By rising again, He brings what we so obviously need – forgiveness of our sins, the promise of salvation, and the hope of everlasting life.
How do we keep going in these unprecedented time? Isn’t it painfully obvious? Repent. Trust. Pray. Believe. As Paul wrote, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (we) press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). Better days will come. Our sins are still forgiven. We are still the people of God. The sun will still rise tomorrow. Your salvation is complete in and through faith in Christ Jesus. It’s just so painfully obvious, right?