Scripture: Matthew 21:33-46
“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. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 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 get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when 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 lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 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’? 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. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
I want you to guess what the following have in common:
Telephones, automobiles, movies, aspirin, copy machines, FedEx service, and personal computers. What do they have in common? Yes, they are everyday items/services that most of us rely on daily to work and to play, but that is not the answer. Answer: Last Sunday, Pastor Henry talked about the concept of MAYA – do you remember what MAYA stood for? Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. These are things we considered MAYA now, but they were inventions that were initially rejected, because it was too advanced.
- “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union internal memo dated 1876.
- “I do not believe the introduction of motor-cars will ever affect the riding of horses” Mr. Scott-Montague, MP, in the United Kingdom in 1903.
- “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers before rejecting a proposal for movies with sound in 1927.
- “This is typical Berlin hot air. The product is worthless.” Letter sent by Heinrich Dreser, head of Bayer’s Pharmacological Institute, rejecting Felix Hoffmann’s invention of aspirin. Now, more than 10 billion tablets of aspirin are swallowed annually.
- Fred Smith’s overnight delivery idea was considered “interesting but not feasible” by his Yale professor. Smith went onto become the founder of FedEx.
- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer protocol was rejected by the Digital Equipment Corp, Atari, and Hewlett-Packard. In 1977, Ken Olsen, the President of Digital Equipment Corp stated confidently, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Rejections from those companies served as a cornerstone to building the Apple Computer Inc.
Last week, we read how the Chief priests confronted Jesus in the Temple, demanding to know “By what authority” Jesus was doing his miracles and teaching his teachings. But really, they were not interested in his answers. This was a setup, a trap. They did not care about the source of Jesus’ authority. They cared only about maintaining their own power and Jesus and his messages were threatening that power. In response to the Chief priests and elders, Jesus told them the parable of two sons whose words and actions did not match up. Today’s passage is a continuation of that encounter between the Chief priests and Jesus, in which Jesus tells another parable. This time the parable tells the story of the Vineyard Tenants who behaved wickedly.
The tenants rejected the owner’s authority. The vineyard did not belong to them, but they felt entitled to it and did not honor the owner, nor the promises made with the owner. When the owner sent messengers to collect what was rightfully the owner’s, the tenants beat, killed, and stoned the servant messengers. The owner sent more servants as messengers, a second time around, but they were treated the same way as the first time. Finally, the owner believed that the owner’s own son would be treated differently, but tragically, the tenants killed the son too, misguided by greed and a false sense of entitlement.
Jesus was pointing out the Chief priests’ and the elders’ hypocrisy of rejecting God’s truth, all the while representing God and leading people to live in God. Christians have misinterpreted this parable as God’s rejection of the Jewish people, but this parable judges the leaders who were misguided at the time, not the Jewish people as a whole. The Chief priest and elders were afraid of losing their authority, not realizing that the authority they claimed and used was never theirs to begin with. They were given the authority to lead and guide justly, but they lost the sight of the true owner of authority and the rightful purpose of their God given power. This parable, in today’s context, helps us Christians see where we may have been misguided and misused our God given authority when leading people to God.
Maybe it will be helpful to ask: Who are we in the story? Sometimes, we can be the self-righteous leaders, sometimes the crowd, sometimes the servants sent by the land owner, sometime the misbehaving tenants. One thing is for sure, we are never the land owner or the Son. The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it belongs to the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We have been graced to tend our small corner of this earth. I don’t mean just the physical aspect of owning a small piece of land or property to tend. This includes how we treat one another, how we manage our resources and how we utilize our systems in place to benefit one another. Somehow, as we occupy our life here on earth, we have come to believe all that we have access to and all that we have are ours – that we are entitled to it. We have rights. The Constitution of the Unites States guarantees our rights and privileges. Our First and Second Amendments – we are vigilant in making sure our rights are protected. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for those rights and I do believe in protecting our rights as citizens. Yet, we need to be honest with ourselves – there are those people who abuse these “rights” of theirs to verbally and physically terrorize others, and work to keep their power and privileges in place.
Jill Duffield, the editor of Presbyterian Outlook, described it as “The world described in this parable is one of violence, premeditated murder and greed.” This description is eery, especially, because we are still in a state of shock after the massacre that took place only a week ago in Las Vegas. Violence, premeditated murders and greed – all too familiar, unfortunately, in Jesus time and in our time.
Quoting Rob Saler’s who stated”Christ is at the center of the church’s life, but Christ is found at the margins. Therefore, the church’s center must be the margins.” Jill Duffield states, “Pharisees then and now want to kill the son rather than follow him to the margins. If the Word of God is spoken most clearly and loudly in the margins, then those at the center will do all in their power to silence it. When we find ourselves eager to stamp out those voices, we also need to recognize that Jesus is talking about us.”
Disregard for this earth that has been entrusted in our care, no respect for the sanctity of life, not being able to see the image of God in others let alone in the face that stares back in the mirror, rejecting the truth, falling into false whispers that feed our ego with a false sense of self importance and grandiosity, “if we kill the heir, we can get his inheritance” – just a small case of turning the other eye, no one will know, everyone else is doing it too, why can’t I – just once – disregard for what is good and decent – judging by the color of one’s outer shell, rather than by the content and character of the inner person, listening to the fear that play on our insecurities and giving into its power, rather than the life giving power found in faith in Jesus Christ – this is what we are to reject. We are to reject lies masquerading as truths. We are to reject hatred, violence, fear, inequality of every kind, injustice, and indifference – these do not have a place in our communal life.
We belong to God, along with this earth and all that is in it. We have authority to take good care of our earth, along with all that is in it, all living beings. Jesus who embodied this message of God’s sovereignty and God’s inclusive love was rejected for his radical message then and even now. Yet, those who have seen, heard, and experienced this radical love of God, those who have seen the importance of Jesus’ cornerstone, the stone in which all other foundation is measured and built upon – we have the authority to share this Good News found in Jesus Christ – we have the duty to practice this in our daily life.
We build upon Christ’s cornerstone, block by block, day by day, by doing so with the intention of sharing God’s love. We gather to worship together and welcome strangers in our midst. We engage in difficult and complicated issues with respect. We are open to hear God’s message afresh. We are open to the power of the Holy Spirit, so when we hear a need, we stand and say, “Here I am, Lord. Use me. Send me.” We send out our kids to school with prayers and model faith in their life with our words and deeds. We bake casseroles and chicken for friends in need. We collect toiletry items and send them to places like Honduras. We keep our neighbors who have been devastated by violence, not only in our thoughts and prayers, but by giving our time and treasure. We keep doing the right thing, one thing at a time and that is how we build a community with Christ as our cornerstone.