Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen: Working the Fields while the Master is Away

"Once, a man said, "If I had some extra money, I'd give it to God, but I have just enough to support myself and my family." And the same man said, "If I had some extra time, I'd give it to God, but every minute is taken up with my job, my family, my clubs, and what have you--every single minute." And the same man said, "If I had a talent I'd give it to God, but I have no lovely voice; I have no special skill; I've never been able to lead a group; I can't think cleverly or quickly, the way I would like to."

And God was touched, and although it was unlike him, God gave that man money, time, and a glorious talent. And then He waited, and waited, and waited.....And then after a while, He shrugged His shoulders, and He took all those things right back from the man, the money, the time and the glorious talent. After a while, the man sighed and said, "If I only had some of that money back, I'd give it to God. If I only had some of that time, I'd give it to God. If I could only rediscover that glorious talent, I'd give it to God."

And God said, "Oh, shut up."

And the man told some of his friends, "You know, I'm not so sure that I believe in God anymore."
-God is No Fool, 1969, Abindgon Press.

We’ve talked a great deal about stewardship, and using our gifts for God. That’s vital to understand. Your giftings are entrusted to you by God. And you must make use of them for his glory. But more so, we’re his legal representatives on Earth, God actually making our appeal to humanity through us, his church, that is a great responsibility. In fact, it’s much more than what we might realize.

I think this story quite well illustrates this point.

“So when man finds Jesus, it costs him everything. Jesus has happiness, joy, peace, healing, security, eternity. Man marvels at such a pearl and says, 'I want this pearl. How much does it cost?"

"The seller says, 'it's too dear, too costly.'

"But how much?'

"Well, it's very expensive.'

"Do you think I could buy it?'

"It costs everything you have -- no more, no less -- so anybody can buy it.'

"I'll buy it.'

"What do you have? Let's write it down.'

"I have $10,000 in the bank.'

"Good, $10,000. What else?'

"I have nothing more. That's all I have.'

"Have you nothing more?'

"Well, I have some dollars here in my pocket.'

"How many?'

"I'll see: Thirty, forty, fifty, eighty, one hundred, one hundred twenty -- one hundred twenty dollars.'

"That's fine. What else do you have?'

"I have nothing else. That's all.'

"Where do you live?"

"I live in my house.'

"The house, too.'

"Then you mean I must live in the garage?'

"Have you a garage, too? That, too. What else?'

"Do you mean that I must live in my car, then?'

"Have you a car?'

"I have two.'

"Both become mine. Both cars. What else?'

"Well, you have my house, the garage, the cars, the money, everything.'

"What else?'

"Are you alone in the world?'

"No, I have a wife, two children...'

"Your wife and children, too.'


"Yes, everything you have. What else?'

"I have nothing else, I am left alone now."

"Oh, you too! Everything becomes mine -- wife, children, house, money, cars -- everything. And you too. Now you can use all those things here but don't forget they are mine, as you are. When I need any of the things you are using, you must give them to me because now I am the owner." -Juan Carlos Ortiz, Call to Discipleship, (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975), pp. 42,43.

So too is a similar theme in our parable today. Our parable today is from Matthew chapter 21, the parable of the tenants, also called the parable of the wicked husbandmen, or the parable of the bad tenants.

It occurs in Matthew, but also is listed in Mark and Luke as well. So it must be very important, for it to be listed in each of the three gospels that list the parables of Jesus.

Our context is that Jesus has entered Jerusalem, in an event called the triumphal entry of Jesus. So Jesus is at the capital city of Israel. He is teaching in the temple, Herod’s temple, which was the second temple, reconstructed after Babylon had destroyed the first temple.

Jesus had carefully avoided Jerusalem, and avoided large crowds, but Jesus is teaching now in front of what must be hundreds and hundreds of people, and many Pharisees and Sadducees, after having just cleared the temple of the money changers and sellers. He taught there in the temple, healing people as well. Then he left the city, stayed in Bethany, and came back the next day, continuing to teach, included in these teachings, the parable we see today.

So let’s dig into the parable today, it begins this way: 33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.”

Fairly simple, we have a landowner, he setup a vineyard, and rented it out to tenants to produce his fruit, the fruit that belongs to him. He entrusts it to these people.

Understand that these people represent Israel, and in particular the religious leaders of Israel. It continues:

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

Throughout the history of Israel, God had sent prophets to call the nation, it’s people, it’s leaders to repentance and to walk closely with God, he had sent people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Elisha, many others, and they were persecuted by the leaders of Israel, often bullied, and even killed.

Jesus continues and he says, 40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Prophetic word from Jesus in this parable because he says he’ll deal harshly with the tenants who mistreated his prophets and himself. And he’ll lend the vineyard out to others who would what, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time, who will produce the fruit he requires of them.

Jesus was prophesying that the kingdom of God would pass over from Israel to the gentiles. Lucky for us, right? And indeed the gospel of Jesus Christ has spread throughout the gentile nations, from China to Russia to the Philippines to Kenya and the Sudan, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.

Our job, as Christians has been, to care for the vineyard that belongs to Jesus while he’s away, leading people everywhere to their savior. That is the fruit required of us.

Additionally, we see Jesus quotes psalm 118, the stones the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

We don’t have time to delve deep into that, but suffice to say, the cornerstone sets the standard for every stone in the foundation of a structure, vital to every other piece of the structure, though Christ was rejected by Israel, he became the cornerstone of the body of believers today.

The parable concludes this way: 43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.”

We are the people who will produce it’s fruit, the fruit of the kingdom of God. That’s us in this parable. Israel rejected Christ. So the stewardship passed to us. That is a great responsibility. And a great blessing. It’s not easy. But it’s not too hard either. Tenants know how to care for a vineyard. Sometimes we can think the work of God is just so far beyond us. That’s not true. His yoke is easy, his burden is light. God gets us. He gives us work we are able to complete. And it’s good. It’s a bright harvest. Have you ever seen a ripe grape vine? It’s bursting forth with fruit.

That’s our calling, to humbly serve God, and care for the vineyard. Are you trustworthy with this great calling?

That is our great challenge today.

So how do we apply this parable to our time today? Clearly Jesus gave this parable to rebuke the Pharisees and Sadducees, and even Israel itself for failing to adequately care for God’s vineyard, in fact, they sought to steal it for themselves and their own glory. And when God sent servants to them, they persecuted them. God sent his only son to them, they murdered him and tried to steal the inheritance for themselves.

Isn’t that exactly what the Pharisees and Sadducees did? When God’s own son came to them in human form, they murdered him to keep the power and authority and respect they had. We have things in this world. And how often do we refuse Jesus some sort of access to what we have? Or, how often we have some theology that we like, and we twist God’s word just a little, because we want it to be our way, and not his way, because his way seems just a bit too hard, just a bit too mean, just a bit too angry? I’ve done that in the past. I prefer this. So I’m going to ignore what I don’t like. I want it this way. And we become just a little bit of a Pharisee in our hearts when we do that. Be cautious, all our abundance in the USA, it makes us arrogant and presumptuous. How often have we resisted the truth? How often have we taken our own ways? Stay humble.

Your duty is to the King’s vineyard. And the King is not messing around. Stay sober about your stewardship. I have struggled at times, with my mindset, getting too lazy, too focused on what I want, too self-centered. Even more, cavalier about sin. Sometimes I think God made me a minister because I’m so bad at this I need the extra help and focus of constantly being in God’s word. I don’t know that there's any sin that I’ve not tried or found myself uniquely weak toward. Have a sober fear for the Lord, and a sense of the seriousness of our duty as Christians. I will tell you that many, many, many Christians I’ve known do not take this thing seriously at all. They treat it like it’s sort of optional, just if I feel like I’ll do that, I’ll live that way, kinda, but I’m gonna hang on to my old ways, one foot in the world, one foot in the church. And that doesn’t work, plain and simple.

My only goal in life now, is to be found a faithful steward of the vineyard of God. Make that your goal too.