11. October 2023
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Our typical mistake with parables is to identify who we think we are and then name the parable after them, in today’s case, “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.” But parables tell you the mysteries of the kingdom of God. They do so by comparison according to the law—this and not that. And commerce, landowner, tenants, rent, and harvest belong to the law. And Jesus must speak law because the law experts—chief priests and Pharisees—“perceived that He was speaking of them.” They understood the parable quite well, but it hardened their hearts in unbelief, and “they sought to lay hands on Him.” The parables reveal this unbelief, and they hate Him for it.
Jesus has called out their violence and murderous hearts, how they, “the vinedressers, took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another.” They think they should get the inheritance of the vineyard, and their violence is justified legally. The vineyard’s owner sends more servants and then his beloved son. When we hear beloved son, we know precisely who Jesus refers to, Himself as the Father announced at His baptism in the Jordan. The tenants are being outed for trying to take righteousness for themselves, but to do that, they have to kill the landowner’s beloved son.
None of this is an allegory or a metaphor. Jesus is telling them before they do the thing exactly what they’re going to do. The behavior pattern is well-established in how their fathers rejected and killed the prophets before Him. But the fact that Jesus already knows and reveals what’s in their heart infuriates them even more. How dare He reveal sinful rebellion for what it is! And as the law always accuses, they double down on their fig leaves and intend to kill Him as a cover-up before anyone finds out. And to make matters worse, Jesus is telling them that the vineyard they have been given to care for as vinedressers will be taken from them. They are mad as hell in response.
They should know better. “Have you never read in the Scriptures?” These supposed experts of the Word can’t even recognize themselves in it. So, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?” This is Jesus’ interpretation of the parable. It’s different from the law alone, “the stone that the builders rejected.” The rejection of Jesus Christ is not limited to the chief priests and Pharisees. Indeed, “not one stone will be left upon another. The rejection of the beloved Son is total. There’s not one group that chooses Him and another that accepts Him. No, everyone rejects Him who is life, and thus they die.
But the LORD will not have it. He takes everyone, Jew and Gentile, pastor and laypeople, and lays them as living resurrected stones onto Jesus, the cornerstone. The way that the building is built, or to switch metaphors back, the way the vineyard finally bears fruit is in the Gospel of Jesus. “This is the Lord’s doing, marvelous in our eyes!” It is the working of God to establish Jesus, rejected by all under the law, and make Him the chief cornerstone in whom all receive their life, breath, and being.
Jesus is the beloved Son in the parable. But you’ll notice the Son doesn’t have a new law to replace the old one. Nor does He come with Gentiles who can do better to replace the Jews who screwed up. No, the testimony of the Scriptures is unanimous that the Gentiles are even less able to receive and do God’s law (see Romans 2). The law always results in the rejection of the Son and His death. However, God takes the rejected one and raises Him up as the foundation of the Church.
And what does this cornerstone do? What does the resurrection of the Son do? He raises up a church, the stones of His Church. Those stones are the ones that rejected Him! The first thing the Son does when He is raised from the dead is go to His disciples (who all forsook Him and fled or explicitly rejected Him) and forgive them. This is not Jew against Gentile, synagogue against the church, old law against the new law. The law always divides us.
The church, the temple of God with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone, and we, as living stones, live according to the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. This is for all people, nations, and languages, that is, everyone who once rejected Him. There are two pillars joined together by the capstone Jesus. Their unity is in the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel always unites people around Jesus and the common need to be forgiven for rejecting Him. All sin revealed by the law results in the rejection and death of Jesus. But the Gospel always reveals that that rejection, suffering, and death of Jesus on the cross is the very means that God has used to bring about forgiveness, life, and salvation for you and all who believe. This is the only means for unity among people, to be united in the same promise, the Son, to forgive sins.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin