The trouble with vineyards, churchyards and gardens is that however lovingly you tend and look after them and however much hard work you put into them, they very quickly become a weedy mess if you don’t keep it up.
Today’s parable is the last one Jesus told to the chief priests and elders about God’s vineyard
The first, if you remember was about the equal pay given to all those hired to work in the vineyard. The second was about the two sons, one of which did what his father wanted and the other who didn’t.
We are both labourers and children called to work in our part of God’s vineyard, called to produce fruit
Today’s parable relates directly to the parable told in Isaiah.
The landowner is God. All creation belongs to him, including us. He has produced a beautiful, fertile world for us to enjoy.
In the Isaiah parable, the house of Israel and Judah are the vines, his choice planting. They are expected to bring forth cultivated grapes but instead they run wild and produce wild grapes.
Because they are not behaving the way they ought, the landowner breaks down the wall of protection round about them and stops nurturing the vineyard. Very quickly, it becomes overgrown and full of briars and thorns
We saw a picture of what can happen when walls are broken down last Sunday. Soon after burying John’s ashes, fly tipping appeared, thrown over our broken down wall. It was shameful desecration of our churchyard and I am thankful to the person who cleared it.
Isaiah, however wasn’t just talking about a piece of land. He was comparing the vineyard to the moral and spiritual state of God’s chosen people.
Instead of justice Israel and Judah had produced bloodshed and instead of righteousness grief.
They had given little thought to Yahweh who has loved and chosen them and given the all they needed to grow. God’s character of justice and mercy didn’t shine through their lives
They were suffering the consequences of their behaviour. God had done all he could for them, but in the end there are always consequences for the choices we make.
Last week we looked at the consequences our beautiful world is suffering as a result of exploitation and greed and we saw that global warming and the pandemic has to some extent issued out of human desire for more and more. If we do not repent and change our behaviour we will be the author of our extinction.
Soon after Isaiah told this parable Israel ceased to exist and Judah was carried away into Babylon.
In the retelling of the parable by Jesus, the landowner leased the vineyard to tenants and went to live in another country. When the harvest came, he sent his slaves to receive his portion of the profits. The evil tenants seized one, killed another and stoned another. They were greedy and cruel, wanting to keep all the produce to themselves.
The allusion is to Israel’s treatment of God’s prophets. They killed Zechariah by stoning him, beat Jeremiah and placed him in the stocks and killed the prophet Uriah.
Instead of sending soldiers to execute the tenant farmers, the landowner was crazily patient. He doesn’t want to come down heavily on them so he sent more slaves with similar results.
Finally he sent his Son, saying, “They will respect my Son.”
The wicked tenants killed him to get his inheritance and threw him out of the vineyard. This was a picture of what the chief priests and elders were about to do to Jesus in crucifying him outside the city wall of Jerusalem. Jesus already knew what was in their hearts and mind.
Jesus asked the chief priests what the landowner ought to do at this stage. They gave the only answer that would be just. The landowner should evict the wretches from the vineyard and make them suffer a miserable death. The vineyard should then be given to those who will produce fruit, share the produce and give the landowner what he is owed. The leaders of the Jewish people are pronouncing judgement upon themselves. Jesus was giving them an opportunity to turn from their evil. They didn’t do so and within forty years of Jesus’ crucifixion their city was destroyed by the Romans and the Jewish people were scattered across the globe.
The final image is completely different and is one of both mercy and judgement. Jesus refers to himself as the stone who the builders rejected who becomes the cornerstone, the keystone without which a building cannot stand.
Because the chief priests and elders had rejected Jesus and were about to kill him, they would be crushed by the stone whereas those who produced the fruits of the kingdom would inhabit God’s vineyard.
This parable is all about how we treat Jesus. The chief priests and elders knew Jesus was talking about them. If they repented and followed Jesus they would have received mercy and Israel would have been saved. Instead they looked for a way to arrest him.
Just as Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his time with the truth about their greed and violence, so he confronts us today.
He longs that all God’s people, Jew and Gentile enjoy and display the fruits of his Kingdom. When we reject Jesus God’s only begotten son we exclude ourselves from God’s presence.
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
We have all been given work to do in God’s vineyard nurturing the people, relationships, circumstances and events that God has entrusted to our care; our spouse, children, family, work, and church and the people of Frankley, Illey and Kitwell. Within our daily decisions and choices, our hopes and dreams and concerns we are called to reveal the presence and life of God and produce the fruits of his kingdom.
God doesn’t call us to be lone workers. Jesus the Son who was slain works alongside us, nurturing and caring for us and filling us with his strength. He described himself as the vine. We are the branches.
It would be easy in these days of death and destruction to forget about following Jesus and being members of his church.
The Son and the slaves in Jesus’ parable suffered much in trying to bring in the harvest. Some of them were killed. They were not successful.
Paul reminds us in Philippians 3 that we are our not required to be successful but to be faithful to Jesus. Our success and ultimate resurrection from the dead comes in knowing Jesus. Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.”
When we know Jesus his life and character will shine through us bringing fruit for the kingdom of God.