Pentecost +17

I’m indebted to This Week, a fabulous resource, for the middle paragraphs of this sermon. Too many funerals (and roosters) this week. – MT+

So a Baptist preacher and a priest sat next to each other on a plane. When the flight attendant asked what they’d like to drink, the priest said he’d like a glass of wine. The preacher asked for a soft drink, saying Christians should avoid alcohol. The priest said, “Jesus drank wine.” The Baptist said, “I know, and I would have thought a lot more of Him if he hadn’t.”

We’ve gotten two vineyard parables in as many weeks from Jesus, as they are recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, so you’d think that Jesus had wine on the mind. The Evangelists must have as well, because “This parable is one of only three that appears in all of the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Curiously, some of Jesus’ best-known parables (like the Good Samaritan) occur in one gospel alone but nowhere else. Only the parables of The Sower, The Mustard Seed, and The Tenants get repeated in triplicate in the New Testament.

“In one sense that is rather surprising, especially considering that these days The Parable of the Tenants is not as familiar or beloved as any number of other parables that did not get repeated. Yet there is something within this story that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all perceived was central to the gospel. Perhaps that is because contained within the imagery of this parable is material that points to a key pivot point in salvation history. If we look closely, we will see that Jesus is shifting the focus from Israel alone to the entire world.

“The first hint of this comes in the first verse. Verse 33 is pretty detailed when it comes to describing the vineyard. Jesus could have said simply no more than, “Once upon a time a certain man owned a vineyard,” and then gone from there. But in this case Jesus is downright elaborate in mentioning the planting of the vineyard, the wall, the winepress, the watchtower. But there is a reason for this: it is an overt allusion to Isaiah 5 (which we also heard today).

“Isaiah 5 contains its own kind of parable in which Israel is compared to a vineyard. In that story a vintner who clearly stood for (God) invested lavish amounts of labor and money into his vineyard, anticipating that the end-result of all his fine and hard work would be a rich harvest of lusciously sweet grapes. But when the harvest came, the farmer found that every single vine contained sour grapes, bitter and vile and inedible! So in a fury he plowed the whole thing under.

“Isaiah 5 was a prophetic parable pointing forward to the time when God’s vineyard of Israel would be “plowed under” by the Babylonians on account of Israel’s repeated bitter failings to produce the kind of spiritual fruit God was looking for in his chosen people. In other words, the image of Israel as vineyard was used in Isaiah 5 to point forward to a key turning point in God’s dealings with this world. Now in Matthew 21, by so deliberately invoking this same image, Jesus likewise is as much as saying that in the grand scheme of things, a new and significant turning-point would soon be reached.”1

The question, then, becomes “Turning point for who, exactly?”

Well, for the rejected. For the lowly, the downcast, the undesirables, the untouchables. It’s a turning point for the sinner, the Gentile, the unlovable and the unloved. It’s a turning point for everyone who’s ever thought that God wasn’t there for them to be had, who thought that God wasn’t rooting for them, calling them home.

It was a turning point, or at least the revelation of a turning point, for Jesus as well. “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Jesus was rejected: “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.”

But as many as did not rejected Jesus, to them that received Him, to them He gave He power to become the sons of God, the heirs of the vineyard, rejected of the world but beloved of God.

That’s quite a point on which to turn. Know anyone who could use a point of their own?

1Scott Hoezee, This Week.

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