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20th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 21:33-43

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, So what is it for you?  Hitting every single red light between your home and the place where you need to be in a hurry?  Is it explaining to a coworker how to do something for 15th time?  Is it having your 3rd brand new pair of shoes chewed up by your puppy?  Is it telling your children to clean their room for the 9th time in a row?  What is it for you?  What is it that tries your patience, puts you over the edge, burns you to the end of your fuse so you can’t help but explode?  How patient are you?  Perhaps we all have differing degrees of patience, but I think it’s safe to say that there comes a point when our patience runs out and everyone around us better look out.  The real question is, at what point is that?  How much can you endure until it’s too much?  An even more important question, however, is, “How patient is our God?”  God is the one who holds our eternity in His hands, how patient is He?  In this parable Jesus gives us an idea of God’s patience.

This is likely Tuesday of Holy Week.  Holy Week will end with Jesus’ death on the cross at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders.  On Sunday of Holy Week you remember that Jesus had ridden on a donkey into Jerusalem as people were singing his praises and waving palm branches.  Then Jesus went to the temple and in righteous anger he drove out the people who were turning God’s house into a den of robbers.  While he was there he healed the blind and lame that were brought to him and children were singing to him, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  At this the religious leaders were even more upset.  Then, soon before our text the religious leaders asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?”  In response Jesus told them three parables: the two sons one of whom said he would go work in the vineyard of his father and didn’t and the one who said he wouldn’t but changed his mind and did, then this one, and then the parable of the invitations to the marriage feast.

So what was Jesus’ point with this parable?  Who is the landowner?  Well, that’s clearly God.  What is the vineyard?  That’s God’s kingdom.  In the OT, the nation of Israel, God’s people, His kingdom, was often pictured as a vineyard.  In the parable the landowner did all kinds of things for his vineyard: he planted it, he put up a wall around it to protect it from wild pigs or thieves, he dug a winepress for it – usually out of stone with 2 basins, one for trampling the grapes by foot and the other for collecting the juice, and even built a watchtower for a look out against danger.  Similarly, think about what God had done for the nation of Israel: He rescued them from Egypt, He guided them throughout the wanderings in the desert, He brought them to the Promised Land- a land flowing with milk and honey, He drove out the unbelieving nations that were living there, He blessed them with the tabernacle and temple which were symbols of His presence among them and places where they were to worship Him, He gave them His Word and His prophets.  God fully expected to see fruits from His people.  God had every right to expect his people to honor him alone, glorify him, serve him with their lives.

God gave them the law which was meant to keep them distinct and separate and moral from all the unbelieving peoples of the world.  He did everything that they would be His people and that they would live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him with right living, producing fruits of faith that would shine like a beacon of light for the rest of the world to see and be led to the true God through the outstanding example of His people.  Israel was different, set apart, people were to see them as a special people who lived upright and moral lives, that didn’t have a plethora of false gods, that didn’t kill their babies or sacrifice their children, that didn’t have multiple spouses or degrade their bodies with sexual immorality.

But what happened with the vineyard?  The tenants of the vineyard took it over.  When it was harvest time the landowner fully expected to receive his rent, his share of the harvest of his vineyard, so he sent his servants to collect it.  But when the servants arrived the tenants took the servants, beat one – literally the word means flay someone’s skin, take their skin off, in other words, they whipped the servant so bad it tore the skin off of his body, the killed another – perhaps with the sword, and even worse, they stoned a third.  And what happened in Israel, God’s people?  The nation God established, set apart, settled in a land, gave His Word to, what did they do?  We heard it in the OT lesson.  Kin Manasseh was just one example of the horridness that went on in Israel.  Erecting altars to Baal and Asherah, bowing down and worshipping the stars, sacrificing his own son in the fire, consulting mediums and spirits.  Instead of being a distinct moral nation, the Israelites indulged in sins that were even worse than the completely pagan nations!  So what did God do?  Exterminate them?  Destroy them?  Start over?  No, He sent His servants, the prophets, to call them to repentance.  But what happened to many of the prophets?  Tradition says that King Manasseh had the prophet Isaiah sawn in two, Jeremiah and Habakkuk were stoned to death, others were cut down with the sword, John the Baptist as you know was beheaded.

Now, what would you do, what would anybody do, let’s say if you owned a house and you rented it out to some people.  Then sent some of your employees to collect the rent that was due you, and instead they brutally beat and murdered your employees.  What would you do?  I don’t know of one person who wouldn’t call the police, insist on justice, and make those murderers pay.  This is an unreal story.  This just simply wouldn’t happen in this world.  In fact, the landowner does something even more bizarre: he sends even more servants, more than the first just to collect what was due him.  And what happens?  The tenants beat up and murder them as well!  Now for sure we would think it’s time for the hard hammer of the law to crush these murderers!  But what does the landowner do next?  He sends his own son!!!  “They will respect my son,” he said.”  Ok, now this is unreal.  There is simply no way this would happen in this world, it’s simply not the way the world works.  But Jesus is illustrating a point.  There’s a reason why this parable is so unreal from life in this world.  It’s because it is illustrating the unbelievable, incredible, outlandish nature of God’s grace and patience with those who spurn and reject Him.

Remember who Jesus is speaking to.  As He’s speaking this parable He is staring squarely in the eyes of the Jewish religious leaders, the very people who three days from this point will be having God’s beloved Son, Jesus, the Messiah, murdered, crucified.  And if we read past the place where our text ends we’re told that they knew Jesus was speaking about them in this parable.  But Jesus asked them the question, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  And they can’t help but answer, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest.”   What will happen to those who reject the Son, reject Jesus?  “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

But what about us?  What has God graciously done for us?  He has provided everything for us, hasn’t he?  The air we breathe, God’s, the food we eat, God’s, the water we drink, God’s, the clothes we wear, the homes we live in, the cars we drive, everything we own is God’s.  But that’s not it, consider what He’s given us spiritually: He’s brought us into His kingdom through baptism, He’s made His Word readily accessible to each of us, He’s given us brains to think, eyes to read, ears to hear, in a way we, we have even more than the OT Israelites.  We don’t have shadows and pictures of the Savior as they did, we have the real deal.  We don’t have simply promises of God that one day He will send a Savior, we have the reality: Christ lived, died, and rose.  We don’t have just one place to worship God, we can worship God anywhere with our lives.

In a way, we are all tenants of God’s vineyard.  Let us ask ourselves, “How are we doing?”  Are we producing fruit our Landowner wants?  Do we live producing the fruits of faith?  Do we live lives of repentance confessing sin and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness?  Do we live with a mindset focused on serving God with our lives in everything we do?  Are our words and thoughts and actions a pleasing offering to God, fruits that He enjoys?  Or, are we living like these tenants using all of God’s things and failing to respond to His generosity?

God could have given up on you and me long ago and left us to our eternal fate of death in hell.  But He didn’t.  God could have left the religious leaders up to their eternal fate too, but He didn’t.  In fact, with this very parable Jesus is reaching out to them with a strong warning.  Why?  Because He’s incredibly patient, not wanting anyone to perish but all to come to repentance and faith.  In fact, what did Jesus do?  In patience and love He willingly suffered and was put to death at their own hands on a cross.  Why?  To demonstrate the immensity of God’s patience and grace.  There on the cross Jesus paid for the sins of the Israelites, the sins of the religious leaders, the sins of you and me, the sins of the world in full.  To pay for every time you and have taken God’s gifts for granted and failed to give Him the fruit of a life that pleases Him.  What grace!  What mercy!  What patience!

So in response, live as God’s redeemed and forgiven tenant.  Live in response to God’s grace and patience as a tenant of God’s grace as you drive your car and sit behind a red light, live in response to God’s grace and patience as you deal with your children, with your family, with your coworkers.  Live in response to God’s grace and patience as His tenant as you deal with all the frustrating, unnerving, exasperating disappointments of life, realizing that you have a God who has and continues to deal with you with incredible, mind-boggling patience and grace.  Amen.