The beginning of our chapter this morning, from Matthew 21, has Jesus entering into Jerusalem near the end of His ministry. He has made the long trek through the surrounding lands—healing, teaching, and preaching—and now has come to face what He was sent for: to lay down His life in order to take away the sins of the world. After His entry, Jesus cleanses the temple of the corruption that disturbed proper worship, showing a profound distaste for misguided worship in the scene. He then withers a fig tree that has failed to produce fruit as an example of what happens to a life that fails to produce the fruit God expects. The Pharisees challenge His authority to do such things and Jesus answers with two parables. The first parable is about two sons, one who does what his father wanted even though he declines at first, and the second son who says he will do what the father asks but then changes his mind. The first son is said to be justified because he did in fact follow through with his father’s wishes.
The second parable is our text this morning. Please stand for the reading of the gospel. From Matthew 21.33–46…
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
WHO DO THE PLAYERS IN THE PARABLE REPRESENT?
So, let’s identify the players in the parable so that we can translate its meaning. The vineyard represents the kingdom of God, the master is God, the tenants are the leaders of Israel (who’ve been entrusted with God’s Kingdom in order to produce the fruit of obedience with the people as a witness to the world and to glorify God for His generosity), the servants sent represent the Old Testament prophets, and the son of the king is Jesus.
The events of the parable are meant to quickly tell the bare-bones story of what God is doing in history, along with the current generations role in it and so this particular parable is well suited for the meaning Jesus is trying to drive home. What aligns well is the idea of employment and each of us having a role in God’s will and kingdom. Note that though the particular emphasis is being driven home for the sake of the Pharisees who are listening to Jesus, the care for the kingdom and the role of faithful-fruit-bearing is the responsibility of us all. The application is universal.
BIG POINT #1: God is _______ and _______ .
God is…GENEROUS…by doing most of the work for us. In the parable, the master has provided for the workers everything they need before they are ever employed. At their fingertips is a life of meaning and purpose, with no excuse not to be able to produce what the master has asked. The appropriate response is to do the job requested and to be rewarded for that job.
Spiritually speaking, God has provided us with both life and redemption. When humanity came into the world, they were provided with relationship. After humanity fell from grace and a great distance existed between us and God, God continued to provide relationship. Through Jesus, we have access to God in ways unimaginable. The relationship that was damaged is now healed and we have God as our Father once again. It is pure generosity to provide all we need for a relationship, whether in good times or in bad. God gives and gives, with second and third and forth chances, over and over.
This “vineyard” or kingdom provides us with meaning, usefulness, and roles to play. Through Jesus, God takes the fruit of all labor and shares it with all the faithful. But to the unfaithful and wicked, all that would have produced heaven and its riches was taken away and given to those who would be faithful. And so, our role in the kingdom of God is take our place in the field of God’s will and bring the world the good news it so desperately needs. The world needs forgiveness and compassion and God has provided that through this work of ministry we call faith.
And God is…MERCIFUL…by sending the prophets and His son to the tenants. Each time a representative came, it was an opportunity to do the right thing. The King was not ignorant of the tenants or their capacity for sin, but in His mercy He gave them chance, after chance, after chance. Even at the expense of losing His servants and eventually His own Son, the King continued to pursue the tenants potential to do good out of His love for them. Considering the thousands of years God has spent calling His people back to Himself—all the messengers, prophets, and agents of good news—it is most certainly a long and opportune history of mercy. But, as history winds down and the time for the harvest comes, the fruit must be gathered and the workers must be held accountable for either their efforts or their lack of effort.
This act of mercy should bring to mind the many times we have been shown mercy and given the chance to do the right thing. However this strikes us today, the key is to make amends, to reconcile, to execute; to spend less time saying we’re sorry and spend more time proving we’re sorry. Our faithfulness is proof of our having accepted the wonderful place at the Father’s table, our place in God’s ranks, in the Kingdom that has been generously given for work and a fulfilling purpose.
BIG POINT #2: THE FRUIT OF OUR LABOR IS _______ .
The fruit of labor is…FAITHFULNESS. When we engage God and the work provided in the Kingdom, we discover the joy and love of a faithful relationship. Our service produces a willing faithfulness, a desire to be joyfully obedient. It’s actually that fruit that God desires to harvest and see. But if that fruit is withheld or not produced, then what good is the relationship? When there’s no love, no commitment, no service toward one another to share, then like the fig tree Jesus withers earlier in chapter 21, its time has come to an end.
And so, faithfulness, fidelity, and obedience are what are the expectation of a healthy relationship; they are the qualities of commitment. Like the song before the message said, “Trust and obey / for there’s no other way / to be happy in Jesus / than to trust and obey.” And when we look at the tenants in the parable, there hearts were not set on serving God, on producing the fruit of faithfulness. There hearts were only set on rewarding themselves.
Without a desire to serve the needs of the other, we give only to ourselves and become slaves to our own appetites, which leads to our own destruction. The judgement of God for such a vain life fits the crime. The Pharisees were smart enough to see that what these tenants had done was worthy of punishment, as they declare in v.41, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Blinded by their own selfishness, they miss Jesus’ point that they themselves were like the wicked servants, though they would catch it soon after.
Sin and selfishness so blind us that we miss the very gift of relationship, of being employed in the glorious work of God. Each of us was created by God, out of love, for relationship, and to exercise a role in what God is doing. But when we re-define our roles and our place in God’s world, we turn away, deny, and even put to death the many messengers who come to turn our hearts back to the service of God. We, too, can be like the wicked tenants if we refuse to recognize who’s gracious property we are working on and refuse the mercy of a gracious master.
In closing :
But for us today, remember that our lives are a gift meant to cultivate relationship with God and others. God created us out of love. God redeems us out of love. God will return to collect us out of love. We are His, created out of joy and created for joy in Him. Amen.