3 Movies in 1
There must be a name for filming with more than one camera, but I don't know it. One story is told through the lenses of different cameras. You see the same scene from various points of view. Picture 3 different cameras rolling in this parable that Jesus tells.
One camera shows you the church leaders. These are the farmers to whom the vineyard owner gives out the vineyard. We know from the Old Testament that the vineyard is a symbol for the Church. Notice that Jesus doesn't credit the farmers, the church leaders, with establishing the Church. No the vineyard owner does that. It's His blood, sweat, and tears that go into digging up the land, planting the land, creating the vineyard.
The picture you have now is that the church leaders were tenant farmers because that's the way it works in the world. Owners don't give out their property. But that's the word here. The owner "gives out," or "gives up," His vineyard to their control while He is away. However, at no time does He relinquish the ownership. Jesus makes a point of that when He asks the people, "What will the owner of the vineyard do to them?"
The farmers, the church leaders, were to take care of the Lord's church, but they came to think of it as theirs by right rather than by gift. When Jesus told this parable the church was a bloated, money making bureaucracy for its leaders. Right before Jesus speaks this parable the chief priests and the Pharisees had gathered because they were concerned with losing their cushy living. "If we let Jesus go on like this... the Romans will come and take away our place," they said.
The church leaders were making a great earthly living from the Lord's vineyard, so when He sent servants looking for fruit was he looking for money? If not money, then were they looking for good works? Well, whom in reality, not parable, did the Lord send to His Church? The prophets in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New. What did these prophets come looking for from the leaders? What is the produce of a vineyard run by sinners? Sins of course. So the prophets came saying, "Repent. Cast your sins on the Lord and He will rain down righteousness. Turn from the gods of your own imagination." The Owner sent not for money or good works but for sin and guilt, but the farmers wouldn't give them. Instead they mistreated, hurt, and even killed His servants.
Remember the camera is focused on the church leaders. It portrays them as farmers in rebellion against the true owner of the vineyard. Then it shows they're insane. What else is it but insanity to think if you kill the Son of the Vineyard owner you'll become the heir of the Vineyard? This shows the church leaders in their true light. From the 2nd year of Jesus' ministry some leaders of the church plotted to kill Him. Mark 3 tells us, "The Pharisees went out and held counsel with the Herodians against Jesus, how to destroy Him." Then just days before this parable we have Caiaphas the high priest concluding, "It's better for one man to die."
From the get-go church leaders wanted Jesus dead, and by this camera angle Jesus shows that they knew exactly who He was: the Son of God, the heir to the vineyard. The Church belonged to Him. They knew that. Don't let modern interpreters mislead you by saying, "Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God." O yeah? He's saying so here, and He's saying the church leaders know it too. When Jesus was on trail before Pilate they say, "Jesus ought to die because He has made Himself the Son of God." While Jesus hangs on the cross Matthew specifically says "the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying He said, I am the Son of God.'"
Now camera number 2 clicks on. This shows the people hearing the parable not the leaders portrayed in the parable. They had seen everything Jesus spoke of. They had seen the last prophet John the Baptist preaching repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. They had flocked to John repenting and being baptized. They had seen church leaders vehemently reject John's call for their sins and his baptism. They had seen John imprisoned and murdered. Then the people had flocked to Jesus who said plainly to them, "I and the Father are One." The people know who Jesus is.
Watch the faces of the people as they listen to the end of the parable. "So the farmers threw the son of the owner out of the vineyard and killed him." See them gasp. Then Jesus asks them, "What then will the owner of the vineyard do to those farmers?" Jesus doesn't wait for their reply but answers, "He will come and kill them and give the vineyard to others." And how do the people respond to the news that the church leaders who served their own bellies in running the church and misusing the people would be judged and thrown out? "May this never be." This is the strongest way in Greek to say you don't want something to happen.
They aren't responding to the death of the Son. They aren't responding to the Son being thrown out of the vineyard. They aren't responding to the farmers rejecting the lawful claims of the owner. "May this never be," is a response to God coming and killing the church leaders. "May this never be," is a response to God judging those who had misused His Church and abused His people. "May this never be," is a response to Jesus saying God was giving the vineyard to others.
Jesus preached the kingdom of God had arrived, and it belonged to those who heard His Words. In the last 2 verses in the chapter before our text we read, "Jesus was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes [the church leaders] were seeking to destroy Him, but all the people were hanging on His Words." Yet, now when Jesus says judgment will fall on those who will murder the very Son of God, and the vineyard will be given to them they say, "May this never be."
Now camera 3 clicks on, and this time we're looking at a Stone, but this Stone doesn't look with a rock-hard face upon those who had just rejected what should have been gospel to them. He looks with compassion on them. Only Luke, not Matthew or Mark, put the camera on Jesus, the Stone. Luke says, "Jesus looked directly at them." That language sound familiar? This is the same Greek word found 2 chapters later in the account of Peter's denial and bitter tears of repentance. "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him. And he went out and wept bitterly." This word doesn't describe a harsh stone-faced look but a loving, winning look from a Stone.
"Jesus looked directly at them and asked, Then what is the meaning of that which is written?'" He goes on to quote from Psalm 118: the Psalm about the Messiah that was sung most at the Passover season they were in. The Messiah, the Christ would be rejected, but in being rejected He would become the capstone. They had just said, "May this never be," to that Stone. They were rejecting God's will and God's way. Yet Jesus doesn't say, "Well fine; then be judged with the farmers who reject me." No, Jesus looks with compassion and says the rejected Stone is going to be the capstone.
The people are going to see what you are seeing in Lent. They are going to see Jesus rejected by the church leaders, punished unjustly by the state, and abandoned by God Himself. Why does this happen? Not because there is a mess up in the plan. The Son of the Vineyard owner dies in a last ditch effort to save the farmers who had rejected the Vineyard owner so pointedly.
Incredibly He dies for all those who have ever rejected Him, and that means He dies for us all. He dies for all of us who reject His ways of working and doing. He dies for all of us who think we would be a better gods then He is. This is what the farmers are saying when they say they will be the heirs. They are buying in to Satan's original lie in Eden, "You shall be as God." We buy into this same lie every time we think God should be working in a more, better, different way in our lives.
We scorn the way God works but that doesn't prevent Him from working. Keep the camera on the Stone that is rejected. He's dragged out of the vineyard, cruelly tortured, and put to death on a cross. He dies at the hands of sinners for sinners; He dies at my hands, at your hands, at our hands, to redeem not just these hands, but these bodies and souls. But that's not the end of the story. He rises. The Stone that was kicked to the side as useless rises to become the Capstone: The Stone everyone must come to terms with. The Stone everyone must learn to live with.
There are two ways to live with this Stone. Fall on Him and be broken or be fallen on by Him and be crushed. The rock-hard bottom of our hearts will either be shattered on Him or be crushed to hell by Him. We will either say in faith or in unbelief what Julian the Apostate, the Roman emperor who mercilessly persecuted the church, said on his death bed to Jesus, "Thou hast conquered, O Galilean! " Conquered we will all be one way or another by this Stone. Like the leaders of the church we will be crushed in impenitence, or like the people who believed we will be broken into pieces of repentance, faith, hope, love, joy, and peace.
Of course, the prospect of being broken into pieces is scary. So scary we'll try most anything to avoid it. We're like the people in the text who wished mightily that nothing would change the established order even though it was harmful to them. It's scary to think of the life you are content with being atomized. So don't think of that. Think of where Jesus redirects your eyes, to Him the Stone. None of us can avoid this Stone. We all must come to terms with Him. The Stone leaves no one's life the same that it comes in contact with. But those He breaks into pieces by repentance He doesn't leave that way. No, He rebuilds them to His glory and their eternal salvation. 1 Peter promises that "like living stones you are being built up." All of us filling and fitting our place in relation to Christ, the Capstone. And the camera rolls on showing a beautiful, glorious building. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fifth Sunday in Lent (20070325); Luke 20: 9-19