Parable of the Foolish Landowner

Isaiah 5:1-7    
Psalm 80:7-15    
Philippians 3:4b-14     
Matthew 21:33-46    
Proper 22
October 8, 2017
Parable of the Foolish Landowner
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    As we talked about last week, this gospel text is right in the heart of Holy Week and it seems Matthew has painted this image for us of Jesus walking to the cross using this parable.  He has predicted three times already in the gospel that Jesus would on a cross.  And so, it is very easy to read this parable with that cross in mind.  It seems that is what Matthew wants us to think Cross.

    I was listening to a podcast this week and the one scholar said, "you shouldn't allegorize parables...except this one." And maybe that is true.  It would break one of our parable rules, but we are Lutherans and we know the rules are meant to be broken - sin boldly.  

    I mean, this parable does give us a unique insight into Jesus' Christology.  Why did God send Jesus? Because nothing else was working.  The prophets were being murdered, stoned, or just plain ignored.  That makes sense, right?  But here is the thing, here is the problem with this very simplistic understanding of Jesus and cross - it doesn't paint God in the best of light.  It shows us a foolish God - why would God send his only son to a world that would kill him?  Frankly, it paints the ones who sent Jesus to the cross in a better light.  They knew exactly what they were doing when they handed Jesus over to be crucified.  Judas knew exactly what he was doing when he kissed Jesus in the garden.  Ciaphas knew exactly what he was doing when he sentenced him to death.  Pilate knew exactly what he was doing when he sentenced him to cross.  Humanity was in charge which brought salvation, not the other other way around.

    See, if we follow this mindset here, we remove the very notion that the crucifixion was a divine necessity.  Back on September 4th, we heard from Matthew 16, one of those passion predictions about his death on a cross.  And Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus says, "get behind me, Satan."  Jesus tells all the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem.  "He must" - It is necessary that Jesus go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  It is a binding agreement that can't be broken.  It has to happen in-order to fulfill all righteousness before God.  There is nothing that Jesus can do to change this binding agreement.  The Divine necessity of Jesus going to the cross is real and therefore cannot be ignored or explained away as this parable might lead us to do.  In a way, this parable really isn't about the cross at all.  Well I mean it is, but isn't, you know it kind of is, but its not quiet (Don't you just love theology?).

    Parables function as metaphors challenging or inviting the audience into a new or deeper understand of God's dominion - a dominion identified with the last, lost, least, little and lifeless.  The parables open to us an image of God's dominion - they are not about predicting future event to come but rather, give us a gateway into seeing what it means to live under God's dominion and not under the world's dominion. 

    I like us to approach this text with instead of asking "why the cross?", we ask "why did the landowner send your only son and what does that have to do with God’s dominion?"  What does this parable teach us about the foolish/desperate/crazy landowner?  I see a vulnerable landowner.  I see a landowner who tried to send others to his tenants in the vineyard to collect what was rightfully his and the tenants wanted no part of it.  I see a landowner who is at his wits ends with his land and tenants, who realizes violence only leads to more violence.   It was out of this realization that the landowner doesn't form an army to take back what was rightfully his but realizes he is in fact very vulnerable.  Nobody likes admitting that they are vulnerable.  It makes us feel week.  The Landowner is honest about his predicament and decides to act within that vulnerability.  He sends his Son because the landowner believes tenants will respect the landowner's vulnerability; he will be reminded the tenants of their humanity and empathy, and hope that they might feel the same in the presence of his vulnerability, repent and come around. Instead, they kill the son. They reject the landowner's vulnerability because that is what the dominion of the world does.

    Jesus asks, "Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’"  The people say,  ‘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.’  Wrong answer.  That is how the world responds.  How does God respond in God’s dominion.  Violence begets violence.  

    "Have you never read in the scriptures..." how God brings about forgiveness instead of destruction?  “Don’t you remember how God brought the people out of exile and back into their land.  Don’t you see that God sent me instead of another flood to destroy all the earth.” Yeah, the parable is about the cross but it is about so much more.  This parable teaches us that our God never intended to meet the world with violence but with vulnerability.  

    When do we meet violence with vulnerability?  When do we send our only sons and daughters to an unruly and angry people?  We normally don’t.  I think this parable reminds us that in God’s dominion, people stand up for what is right, and just, and holy in the world.  They speak as the moral authority and remind our leaders that violence only leads to more violence. The world’s dominion demands strong leaders who will stand up to other leaders and threaten mass destruction.  God's dominion meets violence with people willing to lay down their life for God's harvest - a harvest that is plentiful and needs to be picked before it spoils.  God's dominion has a vineyard bursting with fruit that needs to be picked, but their are some scary people standing in the way.  What do you do?  Are you going to take up a sword or take up a cross?  You going to meet them with violence or vulnerability.  Sword or cross? Your choice really.  Choose wisely.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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