If you listened really close to the Old Testament reading and to the Gospel reading you may have noticed that they sounded a lot alike. God, through the prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus here in the New Testament, uses the imagery of the vineyard and the vineyard owner to help the people understand the relationship of God to His people. We are told that the landowner planted a vineyard and built a wall around it. This wall is the wall of the Law. The children of Israel were different from all the other nations and peoples around them. They had a God who was a personal God, who cared for them, who was personally involved with them and their lives. Their God was one who gave them the Ten Commandments, a set of Laws to help them to be better people in this world. Actually, God gave them three types of law, the civil law, or what we might call the law of government; the moral law, which is the Ten Commandments; and the ceremonial law, which were the law governing sacrifices and temple worship. Now to those who today would suggest that we are no longer under the Old Testament laws, that statement is only partially true. We are no longer under the ceremonial law, but we continue to live under the moral law of the Ten Commandments and in this country we continue to be under the civil law which protects us as citizens in this country.
Now, as we look at this parable I would ask that you put yourselves in the shoes of the children of Israel, which is right to do, especially as we understand that the Children of Israel were Old Testament Christians, people saved by faith in the promised Christ, promised back in the Garden of Eden, just as we are New Testament Christians, saved by faith in the Christ, namely Jesus who is our Savior. If you want to put yourselves in the shoes of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, that is up to you, but at least put yourself in the shoes of the Children of Israel. Today we can see ourselves as being set apart. As Christians we are different from the people of the rest of the world. We are different from the people around us. Or at least we should be. The comments of the media and our society in general remind us of our differences. Above all is the difference that we have the Word of God. We have God’s Word which is our handbook and our guide to life. Like the Children of Israel, we are different. And please understand that the reason God gives us His Word, His Law and His Gospel is because we need it. Just as children need rules to set boundaries, and let me tell you that although they may test those boundaries, they are glad they are there, because those boundaries make them feel safe. In much the same way, we like God’s Word which sets boundaries for us which make us feel safe. And it gives us the comfort of knowing our sins are forgiven when we trespass those boundaries.
Getting back to our text, we are told that the landowner even went so far as to put a vine-press in his vineyard. A vine-press is what is used only after the fruit is ripe and harvested. If there is no fruit, the vine-press is useless. In other words, the landowner is expecting that there will be a harvest of fruit. God, speaking through the prophets, expected that the Children of Israel would be different than those around them. He expected that they would bear the fruit of faith, that they would show themselves to be different. What about us? God expects fruits from us as well. He gives us His Word. He gives us His Holy Spirit. He works through the Word to give us faith, forgiveness and life and He expects that we will show forth the faith that is in our hearts. It is kind of like that old “campfire” song, They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love. They will know we are Christians because we are different.
And to insure that there is a crop, the landowner builds a watchtower over his vineyard. The wall and the watchtower are ways of protecting the vineyard from stray animals that might trample over it as well as from stray people who might try to come in and rob the vineyard. The watchtower was often manned by the prophets and priests of the Children of Israel. They watched over the people, bringing God’s words of justice and judgement as well as His words of grace and mercy. In the same way God watches over us. He gives us His Word, the Bible, as well as Pastors to instruct us in the ways in which He would have us to go. He gives us His sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He gives us confession and absolution. Through these means He gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He gave His Son and the life of His Son so that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Notice that there is no statement on production, on how much fruit was raised, rather there is simply the statement of the coming to collect the rent. God did expect a harvest. He did expect His people, the Children of Israel to be different and to live differently than those around them, instead of blending in and being like the idol worshipers who were there. Likewise, God expects fruits from us. He expects us to be different. He expects that we act differently, that we speak differently, that we stand out and be different in this world.
When it was harvest time, the landowner sent his servants to collect the rent. Unfortunately, the servants who went to collect the rent were killed. This is the killing of the prophets and priests of old. As I have said before, if you do not like what is being said, kill the messenger. At least we are a little more refined in our “killing the servants” today. If you do not like what the Bible says, either rewrite the Bible, or discount it as not being applicable to today. Sure, the Bible tells us the world was created in six literal days. Sure, the Bible tells us of the first man and the first woman and their fall into sin which corrupted the rest of the world. Sure, the Bible says we should not kill, even the unborn. Sure, the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. Sure, the Bible says that women should not be pastors. Sure, the Bible tells us that there is only one way to heaven and that is through faith in Jesus, alone. Sure, the Bible says that the Lord’s Supper is His meal and should be administered with special care. Sure, the Bible says a lot of politically incorrect things. But what do we do. If we do not like what the Bible says, we change it or discount it as being not applicable or we call it a cultural thing and ignore it. Perhaps we try to fit the culture of today into the Bible and give it a new interpretation. In these ways we continue to kill the servants even today.
Ultimately the vineyard owner sent his son and the renters killed him as well. Of course, we know the rest of this story. We know that the vineyard owner is the Lord. We know that the Son is Jesus Himself. We know that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law plotted and brought about the killing of the Son of God. But, lest we put all the blame on them, we might remind ourselves that we too are involved in the death of the Son of God. We are conceived and born in sin and we daily add to that sin through our own sins of thought, word and deed, as we confessed at that beginning of this service. The renters in the parable are judged by the members of the Sanhedrin to eternal judgement and in their judgement they had judged themselves. Thanks be to God that there is a difference for us and that difference is what we just said, that we do confess our sins and are given God’s forgiveness earned for us by the death of His Son.
Yes, very often in life we are just as guilty as the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. We are even guilty as the Children of Israel for their lack of faith. But again, thanks be to God that He has given His Son and the life of His Son for our forgiveness.
Jesus continues by telling us the words of Holy Scripture. “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.” The rejected stone, the killed Son is be the foundation on which the Church is built. Our hope and our faith is built on the crucified Son, because He did not stay dead, but He rose from the dead. Death and the grave have no hold on Him. But, how do we reject the Son, You ask? We reject Him every time we try to rely on ourselves for salvation. Every time we think we are good enough by ourselves to get to heaven. Every time we think that we have not sinned enough to earn hell. This is how we reject the Son.
Salvation is for all who believe. Salvation is for us. It is ours and although it is ours without a cost to us, it is not without a cost to Christ. Our salvation cost the life of the Son, God’s Son. Because of His great love for us, He freely gave His life that we might have life.
I suppose that if Jesus told this parable today He might remind us of all that God has done for us. He might remind us of the fact that we live in a very wealthy country and that we have all that we need as well as more than we need. Very often we have all that we want as well. He might remind us that we have the freedom, not from worship or from religion as seems to be the case in our country, but we have freedom to worship as we wish. He might also remind us that He has given us the means of grace through which He has given us faith and forgiveness of sins and through which He comes to strengthen us in our faith. Through these means of grace He will also remind us of the gift of His Son and the life of His Son, the shedding of Jesus’ blood for our sins. And finally, He may remind us that He expects fruits of faith from us as well. He did not give us faith and salvation for nothing, but so that we might do the good works which He has for us to do even today. And finally, He might remind us that He also stirs in our hearts and gives us the ability to do the good works which He would have us to do, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. Yes, He would also point us to Jesus, just Jesus. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.