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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus


Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

“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. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

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

“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.’ So, they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

“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.”

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’?

“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. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

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

Matthew 21:33-46

Have you ever been rejected? Of course you have. You don’t have to be very old to have felt the sting of rejection. As a little kid you go to school or go out to play, and the other kids don’t want you to be part of the group. When I was about ten years old, I joined the junior choir. But when I realized why the other kids kept turning around and giving me dirty looks, I decided to be merciful and retire from public singing.

Teen years can maybe be the worst when it comes to rejection. We had teen dances on Friday and Saturday evenings and a lot of us guys stood around talking all evening, trying to get up enough nerve to ask a girl to dance. Why? Because when your invitation was rejected because of sore feet or a headache, that was a long, embarrassing walk back to the guys. And I’m sure the girls have their version of that story too.

I’ve never been turned down from a proposal of marriage, because the only girl I ever proposed to was smart enough – or was she dumb enough? 😊– to accept my proposal. But I’ve known guys who were turned down, and you probably have known some too – or even been one!

Do you know where the expression, “to be turned down” comes from? In Colonial America days, when a bashful suitor wanted to find out if the lady he loved would marry him, he’d place a “courting mirror” face upward on a table in front of his sweetheart, after first looking into it himself and presumably leaving his own likeness in it. If the young lady wanted to accept him, she would pick up the mirror and smile at his likeness which she imagined to see there. But if she didn’t want him, she simply turned the mirror down and with it, his face.

Have you ever been turned down? Of course you have. We all have been some time in our lives. Sometimes rejection comes to us in romance. Sometimes rejection comes from other people who are significant in our lives.

Elizabeth Barrett married the poet Robert Browning against her parents’ wishes. In fact, they were so against her marriage, they disowned her. Despite being rejected by her family, Elizabeth Barret Browning continued to write regularly to them. In each letter, she told her father and mother how much she continued to love them, but she never heard from them. Then, after total silence for ten years from her parents, a large package arrived. Elizabeth eagerly opened it. The box contained all the letters she’d written them since her marriage to Robert. Not one had been opened!

Parents can be vindictive at times. So can children. “Rejected” – is there a more painful word? Especially the rejection of divorce. Some divorced people will tell you that losing someone you love to divorce is even more painful than losing them to death because of the additional hurt of rejection. Sometimes children feel rejected when a parent walks out. They don’t know it’s their parents’ problem – they think it’s their fault! And sometimes parents feel rejected when their children walk out! “Rejection” – what a terrible, terrible word.

We can be rejected at home, at school, where we work, where we play – even where we go to church! We’ve all been rejected sometime in our lives.

And so was Jesus!

At the time of our Gospel lesson, Jesus’ days on Earth were almost over. He had entered His final, fatal week. The common people greeted Him with enthusiasm; the religious leaders resented Him. Both responses reached a climax during the busy days of what we’ve come to call “Holy Week.”

The acclaim of the crowds reached fever pitch on Sunday as they gave Jesus a royal welcome of garments and palm branches spread along His way, and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

And if the praise of the multitudes reached its climax that day, so did the resentment of its leaders. The conflict that had begun three years before with the announcement that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand was now about to culminate, in a plot of death.

Of course, none of this caught Jesus by surprise. He had spoken more than once with His disciples about His impending death. And now, with a parable, He’s telling them all that it is inevitable.

He tells of an absentee landowner who prepared a vineyard to bear profitable fruit. The man (who is God, of course) then turned over the operation of the vineyard to a group of tenants who had contracted to share a percentage of its produce with the owner. Attempting to collect his share of the vineyard’s fruit, he sent two groups of servants whom the tenants beat up, stoned, and even killed! Finally, he sent his son in hopes that they would respect him. But even the son was rejected by the tenants and was murdered.

Knowing He was only days from His own murder, Jesus explains His death with this parable. In just a few words Jesus put the issue squarely to those opposing Him. “Your quarrel isn’t with me,” He’s saying, “your quarrel is with God. Your rejection of Him isn’t new; you and your ancestors have been rejecting Him for centuries. And your fate is not further blessing, but certain judgement.” Jesus uses a parable to force His hearers into condemning themselves.

The Chief Priests and the Elders and the Pharisees would have related Jesus’ parable to our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, who said that God “had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines… Then He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” (Isaiah 5:1,2)

And Jesus said that God was still waiting for His share of the fruit. He had done all that a vineyard owner could be expected to do. And as the owner and planter of Israel, God had rights to the fruits of His labors, and through Isaiah He had said exactly what fruit He expected: “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the House of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”

Justice and righteousness – concern for the needs of others, and loyalty to God – these were the fruits God expected from His vineyard. What He got in Isaiah’s day were “bloodshed” and “cries of distress.”

And in Jesus’ time it wasn’t much better: empty rituals, hollow legalism, boastful arrogance, lack of concern for others. God’s rights as the vineyard owner were being transgressed. And even worse, all His efforts to exercise His rights were being resisted. Like servants sent to collect a percentage of the fruit, prophet after prophet had come to remind the Israelites of their obligations to God. Sometimes they were greeted with stony silence, at other times with silent stones. And now, finally, the Owner had sent His Son! And they were about to murder Him!

His audience listened to His story, becoming angered by the actions of the tenants. So, when Jesus asked them what the fate of the tenants would be, they were ready with the answer: “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.”

The Jewish leaders had brought in a verdict against themselves! All of a sudden, they realized that Jesus was talking about them!

And right now, we need to understand that in this parable, Jesus is also talking about us! If you listen closely to this story, you see that it’s about one of history’s major turning points. Jesus was signaling a transition in God’s dealings with the human family. No longer were the sons and daughters of Abraham to be His major partners. God was making a crucial change in His program of revelation and redemption! Jesus put it in plain words: “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.” Who are the people the Kingdom of God was given to? We are!

The Church, made up of Jew and Gentile, is the people of God, the Holy Nation called to bear God’s fruit. Do you see the demand the parable puts on us? We are the sharecroppers now! We are the tenants of a land that God owns! We are to be producing fruit for Him! We are to be His faithful subjects, yielding justice and righteousness!

The rejection of Jesus by men, resulted in God’s acceptance of us! What a turn-around! What a price He paid! What a challenge and opportunity He’s given to us! May God help us to be profitable servants of His, so that one day we’ll hear Him say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”


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