The 18th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 22A (10/8/2017)

Lessons:Isaiah 5:1-7 Psalm 80:7-15 Philippians 3:4b-14 Saint Matthew 21:33-46

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Exodus 20:1-4 Psalm 19

Prayer of the Day: Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

21:33  [Jesus said,] “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. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They 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’?

43 “Therefore 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. 44 The 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. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

St. Matthew 21:23-32, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Cornerstone or Stumbling Block?

This week’s Gospel lesson contains another compelling parable from the teaching of Jesus. This time it is “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.” Here Jesus expands on the ancient imagery of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7), and makes a compelling case for faithfulness. A vineyard has been let out to tenants, who benefit from being able to raise and harvest a crop in it, but who refuse to reimburse the owner for the use of the vineyard. Multiple representatives are sent to the tenants and demand what the owner deserves, but each in turn is mistreated or murdered. Finally, the owner sends his very son, and they kill him too.

On one level it is a lesson in stewardship. (Handy for congregations, many who are preparing their annual fund drive this time of year, right?) We, like those tenants, are blessed to live in a world that is able to sustain and delight us. But we, like those tenants, are not the owners of what we possess; of what surrounds us. It all belongs to God, and is entrusted to us for a time. So the question becomes: how much will we return to God for the privilege of enjoying everything that has been given to us? Or in other words: is the exercise of our gratitude proportionate to the richness of God’s grace for us?

On another level, it is a lesson in history. For generations, God has sent prophets to the people of Israel, begging them to return to faithfulness. Those prophets, more often than not, were rejected, abused, sent away, and sometimes even killed. Finally, God’s very son is sent to call the people back to faith, and is treated the same way. It is an indictment on all who will oppose Jesus, especially those who are involved in his rejection and execution.

But at its most profound level, the parable is about Jesus himself. This parable also has roots in the Psalter — verse 22 of Psalm 118 reads:

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.

This becomes the question Jesus asks of the priests and elders of the people who challenge him in Matthew 21:23. They ask, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus is, in fact, the authority. Jesus is the embodied presence of God walking among them. He is the Messiah, for whom they had been waiting, and to whom they must give their allegiance.

The question is not where or how he got his authority. The question is what role he will play in their lives. Will he become the stumbling block that trips them up and leaves them face down on the ground? Or will he become the cornerstone on which they will build their lives?

This is the question for us as well. What role will Jesus play in our lives? Will he be a source of stumbling for us? An irritation that we can neither understand or embrace? Or will he become the cornerstone on which we will build our lives?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What disturbs these religious officials about Jesus? Why is it hard for them to believe?
  2. How do Isaiah and the Psalter help us better understand the background to this story?
  3. What might the crowds understand, that their leaders have missed?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What makes it hard for me to follow Jesus in my day-to-day life?
  2. How does it shape my life when I am able to build it on who Jesus is for me?
  3. How do I express my gratitude for all that God has done on my behalf?