Grace and peace to you, from the God who never gives up on us.
Jesus is telling another parable. The story starts out pretty normal, with the landowner setting up a vineyard and leaving it in the care of tenant farmers. So far so good. This practice was pretty normal back then. Wealthy landowners would lease their land to local farmers, leaving the tenants to farm the land. The farmers would get a portion of the produce of the land. The rest would be collected and taken to the landlord. But then the story gets a little weird. When the landlord sends his servants to collect his share, the tenants beat one up, kill another, and stone the third. When he is told what has happened to his servants, the landlord doesn’t react in the expected way. He simply sends more servants to the vineyard!
And when – surprise, surprise – the rotten tenants do the same to the second set of servants. The landlord does an even crazier thing, he sends his son! What is this guy thinking? Hasn’t he learned anything from previous experience? You would think that the tenants getting away with abusing the servants the first time would have been enough, but they keep at it! They remind me of the man who was in the newspaper a while ago. He was arrested after he robbed the same bank three days in a row! Getting away with it once was pretty good. Twice was pushing his luck. The third time was just nuts!
Once again, Jesus is using exaggeration to make a point about the Kingdom of God. In a few minutes, we will recite the Apostles, Creed. The beginning of the creed goes like this, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” According to Martin Luther, what we are professing is: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children. Just as the landlord in Jesus’s story did everything needed to create the vineyard, God has given us everything – our lives, our families, everything we have. And just as the landlord did in the story, God has placed us in charge of his creation. We are to be stewards, not just of creation, but of everything God has given us.
Too often, like the tenants in the story, we forget just where all our possessions come from. It is so easy to begin to think that we have what we have because of something we have done. The tenants resented the landlord. He hadn’t worked in the vineyard all these years. Why should he expect to get something back?
If we are to call ourselves Christians, if we profess to believe what we are about to say in the Creed, we have to accept that we are not the creators of our own wealth. The tenants in the story are confused. They seem to have forgotten who is the Creator and who is the creature. Let us not forget who we are. And yet, even when the tenants beat and kill and stone the servants of the landlord, he does not give up on them. He keeps trying to reach them, to remind them of who they are, and whose they are.
Even to sending his Son, God never gives up on us. Never, even when we killed his Son, for reminding us that we are not in charge. We are but stewards of all that God has given us. God did not give up on us. God simply raised Jesus from the dead, saving us from our selfish, greedy sins.
Jesus ends his story with a question. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? We know the answer to this question, don’t we? God, the landlord, Creator of everything we have will keep reaching out to us, calling us to be good stewards of the abundant blessings we have received. Expecting us to do what is right, with the gifts we have been given. Amen.