See What He Wants You to See
What do you see on the cover? A young or an old woman? Without taking you into the maze of postmodern mush where nothing is what it is and without going into Madonna's 1998 song that you only see what you want to see. I say see what Jesus wants you to see in this text. Here translation is the key.
See in this parable gifting no leasing, letting, renting. The people working the vineyard are husbandmen, famers. In this parable Jesus uses the word farmer' 5 times. The NIV insert translates it 4 times as tenant'. The same word they correctly translate farmer' in the second sentence they interpret the next 4 times as tenant.' That changes this from the realm of grace to that of business. This is the difference between the 10-year-old boy giving his mom an itemized bill: clothes folded - .25; trash taken out - .50.; table set - .40, and her replying' with: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner no charge. Taking you to ball practice no charge. Buying, washing, and drying closes no charge.
This is seeing an ugly old woman on the cover not a beautiful young one. The NIV insert puts that image before you by translating "rented." They are translating the word ekdidomi. The ordinary word for give is didomi. So ekdidomi is literally give out.' It's true; that word can be used to mean rent. In classical Greek you find it both of giving and renting. However, Matthew's account of this parable uses didomi in places Luke has ekdidomi showing they are New Testament synonyms. When the Lord sends a slave to them at harvest time the text says it was "so that they would give [didomi] him some of the fruit". So the context of Jesus' words is gift not business, grace not debts.
In the face of such magnanimous giving what do the receivers do? The giftees beat their Lord's slave and send him away empty-handed; treated another shamefully and sent him away with nothing too; the third slave the giftees wounded and threw out. Again, so you can see this for the ugly woman that it is and not mistake it for a pretty young girl, the man who plants the vineyard and then gives it away, is revealed to be the Lord of the vineyard. The insert translates the word kyrios, which is Greek for lord' as owner.' It's bad enough for a renter to treat an owner's manger that way, but how wicked for sinners who have been gifted by the Lord to treat his ministers that way! But that's not the worst of it. There is real over-the-topness in the Lord's words, "What shall I do?" The God who knows all is in a quandary? Cyril of Alexandria says that when a doctor says "What shall I do?" we understand him to mean that every resource of medical skill has been tried without success (ACC, NT, 305). The all-knowing Lord doesn't know what to do in the face of such hateful rejection of gift and grace.
The Lord wants you to see a beautiful young woman here and not an ugly old one. So over-the-top grace has to pop out of this parable. Here we're talking a stereogram which is a 2 dimensional diagram showing a 3-dimensional image popping off the page. It's a start to see we're in the realm of gift, but what really pops grace out in high relief is the gifting of the Lord's own Son. Hear not just see this. Hear this Christmas hymn line: "Today He opens heaven again and gives us His own Son." (TLH 95:1). After they have disrespected and physically abused 3 of His representatives, think prophets here. After they have shown themselves ungrateful, hostile, violent enemies of Him, the Lord decides to send His Son whom He loves on a perhaps. Others translate: "They'll probably respect him" (GW). "It may bethey will reverence him" (AS). "Maybe they will respect him" (NIVR).
Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying, "They will be moved to respect Him." It's over the top in Luke: perhaps, maybe, probably. After beating, wounding, and throwing out empty-handed the Lord's ministers, what on earth would move the Lord to send His Son? What could He want so desperately that He is willing to send His only beloved Son to get it? If you think the context here is one of leasing and rent payments, then you see God the Father sending His Son to get a return on His investment. A profit motive is behind Him willing to risk the life of His Son on a perhaps. That would be an ugly picture of the God who is love, of the God who first loved us, of the God who so loved the world that He gave His only beloved Son to redeem it, to rescue it, to save it from sin, death, and the power of the devil. The real ugliness is on the part of the farmers who were given a vineyard that they did not plant, and wanted nothing to do with the One who gave it. The ugliness painted in this parable is what John 1 says, "He came unto His own and His own received Him not."
Every parable has over-the-topness in it. You're shown something that no one could imagine let alone see or hear on their own: Grace, love, forgiveness of sins beyond degree or impenitence, hardness, rejection beyond measure. The over-the-topness highlights that we are in the realm of the divine, the otherworldly, that a parable is a story set on earth about heaven or a story from heaven told in terms of earth. Such over-the-topness warns us of hearing Jesus' parables as morality tales or as fables with morals. I've pointed out some over-the-topness: the Lord of the vineyard gifting it and being willing to send His only beloved Son on a tepid perhaps.' But I don't think any of these are thee over-the-topness. That is found in what the Lord sent His Son to get.
The Lord wants you to see the real fruit of this vineyard. Think reality show here. I've not seen "The Real Housewives" shows from cities around the world, but they purport to show you how things really are. So let's get real. What is the fruit of a vineyard given to sinners and worked by sinners? What was the fruit that came out of perfect Eden from a perfect Adam and Eve? From perfect paradise came unbelief, lying, hypocrisy, and death. Our Lord wants us to make this connection. The parable says a man, who is later revealed to be the Lord of the vineyard, plants a vineyard and gives it to farmers. Genesis 2:8 reads, "And the Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed." In the Communion Proper Prefaces "we have the oldest and least changed part of the liturgy." They date to at least 220 A.D. (Reed, 324). And the one for Lent links Eden to the killing of the Son on the cross. It says that Jesus "on the Tree of the Cross did give salvation unto mankindthat he [the devil] who by a tree once overcame, might likewise by a Tree be overcome."
What does God send His only beloved Son to buy not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death? What does the Lord of the vineyard expect to get from vineyard worked by sinners? Sins, sins, and more sins. You've seen those ridiculous Turbo Tax Commercials designed to drive home the fact that Turbo Tax is free. About the only words in one commercial, which is a spoof of the 60's-70's gameshow "Password" are "free, free, free." Well, sins, sins, sins is what the Lord of the vineyard comes looking for and wants to take away.
Jesus is the Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world. That's what He came to get from you. Already in Eden the Lord promised that the Seed of the woman, Jesus born of the Virgin Mary, would crush the head of the serpent Satan. The blood of the killed Passover Lamb painted on the doors of the Old Testament Church caused the Angel of Death to pass over. Paul says, "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed." The Proper Preface for Easter makes reference to this saying, Jesus "is the very Paschal Lamb which was offered for us." Jesus is the real goat foreshadowed by the 2 goats of the Day of Atonement. The one goat after the high priest put his hands on it and confessed the sins of the Old Testament Church was let go to wander in the wilderness bearing their sins away as the scapegoat. The other was bled, butchered, and burned on God's sacrificial altar for their sins. The sacrificial goat's blood was poured into the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant as a covering of sin and it's fat burned as a sin offering.
All these images from Genesis to Leviticus point to the Person and Work of Christ, to who He is and what He came to do. He the Man who is God is here to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. God is the offended party; no less than God must be satisfied with the offering. Do you think all the blood of all the animals in the world could satisfy the wrath of God against sinners? Same goes for human blood. The prophet asks, "Should I give the fruit of my body for the sin of the my soul?" That's what pagan's did, and still do, offer up their children as a sacrifice to their gods. No, as we sing in a hymn, a thousand death's like mine would be all too few. Only the suffering and death of a human like us but without sin could satisfy God's Law and take away His reason to be angry at man. And only the suffering and death of Man who is God could be enough to do that for all people.
So in our text, in the last week of His life, Jesus is in Jerusalem looking for sins. That's what He is here for every week as well. You always have sins to give. The Lord is not here seeking payment for sins but your sins, not here looking for what you can do for Him but what He can do for you. That's what He wants you to see in this parable. In pictures with 2 images, like the one on the cover. You can see the one and not the other. Or having seen both you can lose one and only see the other. The leaders only saw ugliness; the people saw beauty. I say this because in the context of this parable Mark reports: "the large crowd listened to Jesus with delight" (12:37). Who is not delighted when seeing a beautiful picture? That's what He wants you to see too. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday in Lent (20190407); Luke 20: 9-19