Bearing Fruit as God’s Vineyard - Pentecost 18
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 21:33-46
October 04, 2020

Jesus speaks another parable in our Gospel reading today. This parable was initially directed at the leaders of the people of Israel. However, it is also important for us and for all people. We recall that a parable is like a short story that Jesus took from real life to illustrate a point or two about the kingdom of God.

Jesus tells us about a vineyard and the owner of the vineyard. Jesus calls him the master of the house. Jesus will later also call this person “lord” (Mt. 21:40). He owns the vineyard and everything it produces. He completely calls the shots.

This owner of the vineyard planted the vineyard with great care. He provided all the furnishings for it. He planted the vines. He built a fence around it. He built a winepress in it for turning the grapes into wine. He built a watch tower in it to protect it (Mat. 21:33). It was a beautiful and well-furnished vineyard. It was the owner’s creative handiwork, and it was good.

Then Jesus says that the owner of the vineyard leased it to some tenants (Mat. 21:33). The word Jesus uses is literally those who are engaged in working the ground to grow crops. They are farmers, or they could be ranchers who grow hay or alfalfa. Since the vineyard was leased to them, we could think of tenant-farmers.

Then the owner of the vineyard went on a journey. Now God does not go far away on journeys. This is just part of the story to set the stage for the owner sending servants and then his own son.

The time of harvest came. The owner of the vineyard expects to receive a yield of fruit. After all, look at how excellent the vineyard was and the superb provisions the owner of the vineyard made for it. So he sent his servants to receive the yield from the tenant-farmers (Mat. 21:34). These servants in the parable represent the prophets that God had continually sent to the people of Israel.

The tenant farmers see the servants coming. They do not intend to give the owner his due. They mistreat the owner’s servants, beating one, stoning one, and killing one. The owner send others. The tenant-farmers do the same to them (Mat. 21:35).

Then the owner says, “Here is what I will do. I will send my son to them. They will respect my son. They will receive him, and give me the harvest from my vineyard that is due” (Mat. 21:37). Jesus is trying to get the leaders of the people of Israel to see who He is.

But the tenant farmers see the son coming. They do not respect him and receive him. Rather, they get crazy thoughts in their head, evil thoughts. They conspire to kill him and reckon that if they do, the vineyard will be theirs (Mat. 21:38). But it certainly doesn’t work that way.

They grab hold of the son. They do to him whatever they please. They throw him out of the vineyard and kill him (Mat. 21:39).

The crazy thing is, the tenant-farmers thought that the vineyard belonged to them, so they could do with it what they pleased. But it did not belong to them. They were only tenant-farmers. And the fruit for which they were laboring did not belong to them. It belonged to the owner of the vineyard.

Now here we might think that that’s not right. In the real world of the economics and legalities of tenant-farming, the farmers need to get something for their labor. True enough. But Jesus is not telling us this parable to teach us the economics, legalities, and justice related to tenant-farming. He is teaching us about the kingdom of God.

So in the parable, and then in all reality, everything belongs to God. In relation to God and God’s reign, the vineyard and the fruits belong to God. And the tenant-farmers were supposed to be God’s servants to yield God’s fruits to Him in their seasons. They were to honor God by yielding the fruit to His Son, whom He sent to them to serve in faith. But they would not (Mat. 23:37).

By this time the chief priests and elders of the people were sucked into the story so that when Jesus asks them a question, they end up answering against themselves. He asks them, “What will the Lord of the vineyard do to those tenant-farmers?” (Mat. 21:40).

They say, “He will utterly destroy those wicked men and lease the vineyard to other tenant-farmers who will deliver to him its fruits at the time of harvest” (Mat. 21:41). They did not realize they were rendering this judgment against themselves. For they were not rendering the fruit to God that God sought. They were rejecting God’s Son whom He was sending to them, our Lord Jesus.

But Jesus never ceases trying to win them. He speaks to them from Psalm 118 about Himself and the rulers of the people of Israel regarding the Messiah: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This cornerstone is from the Lord and it is marvelous and wonderful in our eyes” (Mat. 21:42).

I mentioned at the beginning that Jesus first spoke this parable against the chief priests and elders of the people of Israel whom He was dealing with face to face. But we could also see this vineyard in a way to include us and all people. Let’s do so like this.

Let’s see the vineyard as all creation. We could speak long about how the conditions are just right for life on this planet such that if there were slight variation, we could not live. For example, if the earth were any closer to the sun than it is, we would get scorched to death. If it were any farther away, it would be too cold. If gravity on earth were any more powerful, we would get crushed. If it were any less powerful, we would fly off into space as the earth spins. So how is it that it is just the right distance away? How is it that the earth is just the right size so gravity is just right? Chance? Why not give God the glory for planting such a wonderful vineyard?

We could speak of how God planted this creation beautifully and has made and still makes profound and wonderful provision for it. We could speak of the true wonder and mystery that we humans are as the creature God has made us to be that philosophers and scientists still can’t get their heads wrapped around. You truly are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Though ironically, we live in a culture that elevates the human being to godhood in terms of faith and morality, yet denigrates the human being to being nothing but molecules and chemicals, to being nothing more than an animal, in science and understanding the nature of things. Our culture is quite schizophrenic on this fundamental point.

God is looking for His vineyard to yield grapes, but it has yielded wild grapes. So God sent His prophets to speak His word. And then He sent His Son, and His Son did the wonderful marvels of life and restoration to reveal who He is and what is to come. The builders, however, dismiss those things as myths and fairy tales, because they are deeds that don’t fit the ordinary picture of the normal that the thinkers think is most real, and which they think they thoroughly understand. So they reject God and the stone that God has made the cornerstone. Yet, this stone is from God and it is wonderful and marvelous in our eyes.

This stone is God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He reveals the self-sacrificing love of God in the sacrifice of Himself in the place of sinners, us humans. We humans are the crowning achievement of God’s creation. Yet, we turned our backs on God and became corrupted by disobedience in all our powers and faculties, to become subject to death, and thus we became candidates for salvation through the atoning sacrifice and resurrection of His Son. And the Son came and accomplished this salvation and meets us here in His word and Sacrament to deliver this salvation to us, forgiveness of sins and the promise of full and complete life in Him.

And so now God looks for the fruit that is rightfully due Him from all people. This fruit looks like this: honoring God as existing and truly God over all things, which honor is truly due Him; believing in His Son, Jesus Christ, as the revelation of God’s character and the resolution that God has given for our deepest need, deliverance from what sin and death have done; rejoicing in thankfulness for this profound gift from God; rejecting disobedience as God defines it in humility before God, in deep gratitude for the forgiveness and life given in Christ; and then bearing the fruit in our lives that reflects a turning away from what is wrong in God’s sight in the love and mercy of God in Jesus, and doing good to our neighbor in what we say and do.

Dear friends in Christ, you are God’s special planting. And in repentance and faith, you affirm all of these things. And you are in His vineyard, bearing to God this fruit in due season. May God cause this fruit to abound even more in us and from us always through Christ and His Word, so that we continue to bear such fruit and rejoice in God in Christ both now and forever. Amen.    


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