The whole story sounds strangely familiar. The landowner planted a vineyard with fruit trees each according to their own kind. He planted a fence around it and dug a winepress. He handed it all over to men as pure gift. He blessed them and said such things as “Be fruitful and multiply” – “take and eat…You may surely eat of every tree.” He saw everything and said “It is very good.”
Of course much has changed since then. Just about everything has changed since then. Things are not all good anymore. Since our first parents fell so long ago, death has entered in. Rebellion, strife, and murder. Wicked tenants. Blindness and hate. Wars and rumors of wars. Things have certainly changed. And it is not “very good,” at least right now.
God however does not change. Unlike us, He has kept true to His promises. He is fruitful and very good. He is love and kindness, tenderness and mercy. To change what has been done - and to make right what has gone horribly wrong, God has done something truly marvelous: THE FATHER SENDS HIS SON THAT YOU MIGHT BECOME AN HEIR OF HIS INHERITANCE.
In our lesson today, Jesus tells us the story of our salvation. That is to say, He gives a short history of the world. Since the beginning, God has been sending servants into the vineyard – prophets and preachers into His church – to preach the Gospel. To preach repentance and faith, life and salvation, law and Gospel, to kill and to make alive. To bring the holy life-giving Word of God into an often dead and lifeless world.
“When the season for fruit drew near, he (the landowner) sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.” Able was killed by Cain. Isaiah the prophet, whose song we read this morning in our Old Testament text, clearly preached the coming of the Messiah. According to tradition Isaiah was sawed in half by Manasseh. Ezekiel and Micah were martyred. Amos was tortured and put to a violent death. Zechariah killed for His message. The disciples of Jesus were hunted down and put to death for the Word of the Gospel that they spoke. St. Peter was crucified upside down. St. Paul martyred as well. In fact, we have just closed out the 20th century – a period in which more Christians have been persecuted, tortured and killed than all centuries combined!
It is only by God’s inscrutable mercy and undeserved kindness that He continues to deal with us - sending prophets and preachers into the harvest. In our parable Jesus says, “And he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.” That is to say, again, they were beaten, killed, and stoned, just like the others. They came to get the landowners fruit – to find faith, repentance, and holy living. Yet, they were put to death at the hands of sinful and wicked men. Rebellious men who neither wanted to hear or head God’s Word.
God Himself laments and grieves over His rebellious people, of whom he desperately loves. God desires to speak His peace – to speak forgiveness and love, mercy and kindness, His life-giving Word to wicked and murderous men – and all He receives in return is dead servants and martyred prophets.
The landowner then does something truly amazing and utterly incomprehensible. To wicked and sinful men – to murderers and sinners He sends His own Son – into hostile territory. In a desperate act, the Father sends His Son. “Finally he sent his son to them, saying ‘They will respect my son.” We must say, “yea right! They certainly won’t respect Him! They have killed the prophets, why would they respect the Son?” Why would the Father risk the life of His own Son? And not just for any men, but murderous men! As Isaiah writes, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9).
God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. The Son entered the world through the womb of Mary – born of the virgin mother. The eternal Word took on human flesh and blood in this Jesus – as one of us.
It was more than a dangerous mission. Jesus was cast out of Jerusalem, taken outside the gate, and crucified – dying the death of a criminal.
Those murderous and bloodthirsty tenants yelled out to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.” They cried out “Let us kill the Son…and the vineyard will be all ours…if we knock him off the inheritance is all ours!” Like the most parables, there is always something ironic or puzzling to chew on for some time. This is certainly one of those instances. For ironically, murderous tenants receive that which they violently called out for.
What they meant for evil, God meant for good. And ironically the Son’s rejection is our acceptance and our life. The Father sends His Son that you might become an heir of His inheritance.
Jesus’ executioners – as they pounded nails through His hands – Jesus cried out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” In that moment, God was truly reconciling his wayfaring and blood-lusting tenants back to himself, creating a new people for Himself – creating a new Kingdom and a new Israel. The Father sends the Son to you that you may be an heir to His inheritance – namely all that belongs to the Son – His righteousness, His innocence, and His blessedness. The Son offers Himself to the Father as the sacrifice for sin – a sacrifice to make saints out of the worst sinners. Jesus gives Himself freely to us. Risen and fresh from the grave He stands before you saying, “Peace to you - take and eat - I have made all things new. Be fruitful. Believe in me.” It is all very good, particularly for you. He richly blesses you and forgives you – all sins. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is (was) the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. Jesus says the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. That is to say, unbelief in Christ and His work means the wicked tenants die in their sins and are lost forever. God however, desires the fruit of faith and repentance from you. And through Christ’s work on the cross, it is surely yours. The violent cry of “He is the heir - let us take his inheritance,” for you has become a pious and salutary prayer for. It is your prayer: “Jesus, give me what is yours! – make me and heir and a stake in your inheritance. Prepare a place for me in your kingdom.” Dear Christian, you are an heir of all that is Christ’s and receive His inheritance through the washing of rebirth in holy baptism and through the faith granted you.
God always delivers on His promises. The Father sends His Son that you might become an heir of His inheritance. For you, this is very good. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. In Jesus Name.