A Divine Judgment . . . and Call

Matthew 21:33-46

33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time came, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”?

43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Matthew tells us that after the confrontation in the Temple courtyard, Jesus left the city and spent the night in the neighboring village of Bethany.

He returned to Jerusalem in the morning. On his way to the Temple, he saw a fig tree on the side of the road. He was hungry and went to pick figs for breakfast. Seeing nothing on it but leaves, he cursed the tree for not bearing fruit. It was not fig season, but that did not matter on that day. This may sound odd or harsh to us, but we need to understand that part of Holy Week was about God’s people being fruitful. Jesus was in Jerusalem, in part, to announce God’s judgment upon the Jewish leaders. And, this fig tree was a symbol of Israel’s leaders falling away from God and failing to produce fruit for God’s kingdom.

The next events of the day bear this out.

When he arrived at the Temple, the chief priests and elders were waiting for him, seething with anger.

They demanded to know, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?”

Jesus refused to answer, but proceeded to tell them three parables, including the one quoted above. Each of the three have something to tell us, but it is this second parable that drew my attention, because it also contains a challenge for us.

The parable’s point is easy to grasp. Some tenants are working land for a landowner. Come harvest time, the landowner sends some of his servants to collect his share. The tenants, though, beat one, kill another and stoned another.

Then, the landowner sent another group of servants, but the same thing happened.

Then, the landowner sent his son. The tenants killed him, too.

It is clear to see what is happening. God is the landowner. The tenants are the religious leaders, those responsible for stewarding the people of Israel and ensuring that they live their lives faithfully and fruitfully. The servants and the son are the early Jewish prophets and Jesus himself, who are calling the religious leaders to be faithful to God. And, the tenants (or leaders) fall woefully short, abusing or killing any who call them to account.

Just to make sure they get the point—and understand God’s divine judgment upon them—Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 about the rejected building stone that becomes the cornerstone, a cornerstone “that will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

Jesus also pointedly tells the chief priests and Pharisees of God’s fierce judgment upon them, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

The chief priests and Pharisees wanted to arrest him but bided their time until a more opportune moment.

I have always thought this story stopped there, but our Savior is a brilliant man, because I realized this week that this parable also applies to his church, to us. We are now the tenants. We are called to bear fruit for God’s kingdom. We are responsible to God for the harvest.

Are we, or will we be, such a people? Are you, or will you be, such a person?

Prayer: Good and Gracious God, you who call us to be your people and to bear fruit fitting for your kingdom, equip us and enable us to bear fruit each day. You know that we grow weary, though, so grant us passion and energy. You know we become selfish, so grant us selflessness. You know we sometimes turn away from you, so always, always turn us back to you, that we might be your gracious servants, always intent upon glorifying you and being part of your kingdom. Amen.

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