More / Book of the Month / A Vineyard Under New Management: 17th Sunday After Pentecost - Matthew 21:33-46 / Pastor Ted Giese

A Vineyard Under New Management: 17th Sunday After Pentecost - Matthew 21:33-46 / Pastor Ted Giese

A Vineyard Under New Management: 17th Sunday After Pentecost - Matthew 21:33-46 / Pastor Ted Giese

A Vineyard Under New Management: 17th Sunday After Pentecost - Matthew 21:33-46 / Sunday October 5th 2014 / Pastor Ted Giese

“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

          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 marvellous in our eyes’?

          Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

          When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The crowds that went before [Jesus] and that followed Him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”[1] – The next day on Monday Jesus clears the temple of the money changers – then on Tuesday Jesus is back in that same temple teaching the people and telling parables and that is where we find ourselves today in our Gospel reading, in fact last week's reading, where the chief priests and the elders of the people questioned Jesus’ authority,  happened on the same day as today’s reading: on that Tuesday in Holy Week.

The parable we hear this day is very specific – Jesus is not speaking in generalities: His audience is right in front of Him and as hearers today we need to be careful that we don’t misinterpret this parable. Yes Jesus is speaking directly to the people gathered around Him that day and that makes this parable extraordinarily personal to that moment, however does that mean that there is no application to us? No, there is and we will get there but first we need to know how it applied the day Jesus gave it to those original hearers. Once we've done that we can see how it applies to us.     

So what did the scene look like that Tuesday? Jesus is back in the temple, no one but He knows that it’s the week that we will end up calling Holy Week. It’s just days before His crucifixion on Good Friday and while His disciples were generally apprehensive at first about being in Jerusalem, about being in the greater Jerusalem area,[2] even still in the midst of their concerns they did not truly know, or fully believe, that Jesus would be crucifixion by the end of the week.

That day Jesus and His disciples are there in the temple, the very seat of religious authority in Israel, and they have a great crowd around them and it’s filled with people who have come up to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus uses this parable that the people know really well: they recognize it from Isaiah, and I can’t overstate this enough, when Jesus is teaching this you can almost see the moment that the Chief priests and the Pharisees figure out that Jesus is speaking about them. Their fear is that the crowed will figure it out too. And they want to get rid of this man who is questioning them: This Man Jesus.

The parable Jesus tells is about the Salvation History of Israel – the terrible story of the failure of Israel’s leaders to receive those who God sent to them: In the parable God is the master of the house who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, built a tower for it and leased it to tenants. This started back with Adam and Eve but you could say it really got rolling when God came to Abraham and over time He built up this promised people into a fine vineyard: The Vineyard becomes Israel. The tenants are the religious leaders who are supposed to be tending the vineyard, tilling, cultivating, pruning, harvesting the fruits for God. On that Tuesday these were the Scribes and Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief priests and the Elders of the people.

When the season for fruit came, the Master, God our Heavenly Father, sent servants – these are the prophets (people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Ezekiel) And in the parable it says that these servants were beaten, stoned and killed – the writer of the letter to the Hebrews described it like this, saying that the prophets sent by God to Israel were: tortured, … [that they] suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, [and] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, [and] mistreated—[3] The treatment of them grew worse and worse the closer they came to the days of Jesus’ coming into Israel and the number of prophets increased as in the parable. Then God stops sending prophets for a time until it's time for His Son to come.

The son of the Master from the parable is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, and just like in the parable the wicked tenants do not receive Him with respect, they make sure that He is killed – hoping to keep the vineyard to themselves. And here we see Jesus pointing to His own death on the cross. What follows is the question: “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” from the crowd comes the answer, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”   

As you can see this is a very specific parable applied very specifically to a very specific group of people – so then how can we understand it for us: The first thing to ask is “who are the other tenants to whom the Master will let out the vineyard?”

Well this is LWML-C Sunday so some might think that this is a Jewish Gentile thing – that because the Jewish people rejected Jesus, the Son, that God then lets out the vineyard to the Gentiles. And then we could conjure up visions of St. Paul’s missionary journeys and dovetail that into stories of our modern missionary endeavours around the world but that would be a misinterpretation of the parable.

Instead let’s go back to that Tuesday, in the Temple, with the great crowd; Jesus surrounded by His disciples (Men who had left families and day jobs to follow Him) and the religious leaders of the day, specifically the Pharisees and the Chief priests (Men who were religious authorities in Jerusalem) and in the midst of this Jesus is telling this parable and as He looks out He sees on the one side the tenants that will have the vineyard taken away from them (the Pharisees and the Chief priests) and on the other side Jesus sees the ones referred to in the parable as “the other tenants to whom God will let out the vineyard” (His disciples): On the one side powerful rich men who lord their positions over the people while on the other side poor common people, fishermen – even a tax collector – men trained by Jesus to be servants of the people.

This isn’t a parable about leadership being given to Gentiles – it isn’t a parable about the missionary expansion of the Israel (which we now know as the church); this is about God the Father changing who His tenant farmers will be: God the Father takes one group of leaders, the Chief priests and the Pharisees, who had the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and throws them out for being wicked, corrupt, for misleading the people and mismanaging the vineyard, for killing His messengers, for being party to the death of His Son and in their place He puts the disciples who had Jesus - the Word of God - with them, and who believed in Him and treated Him with respect.

The Disciples and the Pharisees and Chief priests they were all Jewish so this isn’t a Jewish Gentile thing, in fact it is best to think of the expansion of Israel into what we now call the church, not as a replacement but an addition: God the Father through His Son Jesus added into Israel the Gentiles grafting them in,[4] expanding the vineyard by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the same way it happens today through preaching, through teaching, through baptism, through friendships. This parable is about God being God and about the desired nature of His Servants: it tells the story of the coming of Jesus and foretells the crucifixion and the change of leadership in God's Israel, in His vineyard. Was there any hope for the Pharisees and Chief priests? Was forgiveness for them too? Men like Joseph of Arimathea[5] and Pharisees like Nicodemus[6] and Paul of Tarsus (who became St. Paul)[7] were men grafted into Christ, grafted into the vineyard: Each one repentant and forgiven by Jesus.

This is a hard parable to preach to a congregation because it doesn’t apply to you in the typical sort of way: you are the vineyard, who the tenants are intended to take care of, from whom the tenants are expected to produce fruit for the owner. Jesus speaks elsewhere about the nature of the vineyard,[8] this parable is really directed at those who lead us, those servants who work in the vineyard – your pastors, missionaries and church workers, district presidents, seminary professors, synodical officers and presidents. It can be directed to these people, even today, as a warning that they need to be about the work of Christ Jesus our risen and ascended Lord, and that they have a task and that task is to be the ones who serve not the ones who are served. Jesus, God the Father, the Holy Spirit does not want tenants farmers who labour for themselves or who sacrifice faithfulness to God for public approval.

One very good piece of news that you, who are part of the vineyard, can take home with you is that God cares about what the tenant farmers believe teach and confess, He cares about how the leaders of His Church conduct themselves, He cares about how they treat His vineyard. And while we celebrate LWML-C[9] Sunday today, and we praise God for continually expanding His vineyard, we can trust that Jesus is still carefully watching His tenant farmers. Keep your pastors in your prayers, pray that they would be diligent workers in the vineyard, that they would be faithful labourers, that they would be wise in the Way of Salvation and that they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness when they sin, when they fail to be good tenant farmers.

Rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus is Lord of the Church and that He puts His pastors where He wants them, when He wants them there. That He puts missionaries where He wants them, when He wants them there. That He puts our Church leaders where He wants them, when He wants them there. If those leaders become wicked and hardened and evil, if they care nothing for the Son or the vineyard, if they become antagonistic towards God's Word in Holy Scripture, God will remove them because ultimately the vineyard belongs to Him, you belong to Him and He loves you. God the Father loves you so much that He sent His Son Jesus into that den of vipers to save you from them: To save you from sin, death and the world. Jesus went willingly to the cross just as He stood willingly in the temple before the wicked tenants knowing that they were plotting to kill Him just like in the parable.

Pray for the future faithful tenant farmers, Pray that LORD would even now work to provide His vineyard with leaders, pastors, deacons, deaconesses, and missionaries; Remember that these future workers in the vineyard are sitting right now in the pews all across Canada and everywhere where Christ is faithfully confessed and they are as clueless as to the fullness of how Jesus will use them to tend the vineyard as the disciples were that day in the temple as He taught this parable to the people. They may feel Christ calling them to the vocation of church worker - but for them they don't yet know what that work will be like as they are used to graft in new branches, graft in broken branches and to tend to the vineyard producing fruit for The Owner of the Vineyard. In their way this is where LWML-C fits nicely into the modern situation that this parable addresses, today LWML-C help nurture future church workers by participating in the Seminaries adopt a student program, they support missionaries like our local missionary Rev. DJ Kim with prayer and financial assistance. In supporting LWML-C you support the nurturing of faithful tenant farmers.          

This parable is very specific: that Tuesday in Holy Week it spelled out the Salvation history of Israel, it pointed to Jesus and to the cross. Today, this Sunday, it points to Jesus and to the cross as well and it comforts us by revealing the attitude of God towards His vineyard, His love, His Sacrifice, His judgment. His desire to provide faithful workers for the harvest. Amen.

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.


[1] Matthew 21:9-11

[2] John 11:16, In the Gospel of John St. John records how when Jesus told them that they were going to go to the village of Bethany Thomas understanding the great danger had said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

[3] Hebrews 11:35b-37

[4] Romans 11:1-24

[5] Mark 15:43 "Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God," the council is a reference to the Jewish Sanhedrin. He's described in Matthew 27:57  as "a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus."

[6] John 3

[7] Philippians 3:5

[8] John 15:1-17

[9] Lutheran Women’s Missionary League-Canada