He was, by all accounts, a successful man. This builder of fine homes in an upscale suburb was known to all as a creative craftsman, a shrewd businessman, a fair-minded employer, and a generous benefactor. But he was aging now, and before he set out for Florida for the winter, he approached his top superintendent and told him that he was retiring. “I want you to build me a home, the finest home this company has ever built. Spare no expense, use the finest materials, employ the most gifted tradesmen, and build me a masterpiece before I come home next spring.”
The next day, the superintendent set out to build that home, but not exactly to orders. If his boss was retiring, that meant he would be losing his job, so he needed to pad his own savings account, lest he be destitute. He ordered inferior concrete blocks for the foundation, but charged the builder for premium blocks, and he pocketed the difference. He hired inexperienced carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers and landscapers, but he charged his boss wages that would be paid to master craftsmen, and he put the difference in his own bank account. He installed cheap appliances and lighting, insufficient insulation, inferior carpet, and drafty windows, and he skimmed a tidy sum off the top for himself. In the spring, when the home was finished, it looked spectacular; it was the signature home in the neighborhood, and the only thing that made the superintendent happier than how the project looked was the bottom line in his personal bank account, which had grown by hundreds of thousands of dollars that winter.
When the elderly business owner arrived home from Florida that spring, he toured this home fit for a king, and he was ecstatic. The superintendent handed him the keys and thanked his boss for the privilege of working for him all these years. And then the owner did an unthinkable thing: he said to the superintendent “You have been a trusted friend and a loyal partner in my business for all of these years; you deserve a home like this.” And he handed him the keys.
When you were growing up, did your parents ever have to take anything away from you because you didn’t look after it? If so, you can understand what Jesus is talking about in the parable of the wicked tenants. It is a parable of God’s kingdom on earth. Specifically, God is the landowner, the Jewish leaders and people who reject Jesus or do not care about him are the tenants, the Old Testament prophets are the slaves send by the landowner, and Jesus is the landowner’s son. God gave the kingdom to the Israelites to tend and do his work, but they rejected their duties and turned away from God. In return, he sent the Old Testament prophets to warn them, but the Israelites rejected the prophets, even to the point of hurting or killing them. Finally, God sent his son Jesus to warn them, but he was also rejected and crucified.
The parable of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21:33-46 represents our broken relationship with God, his attempts to repair it, and mankind’s rejection of his attempts. In spite of our continual rejection of him, God never gives up on us. His love for us never diminishes.
Greed is what the parable of the wicked tenants is all about, and greed is everywhere. That’s why the parable is so timely and relevant today; because as that wise homebuilder knew the heart of his superintendent, so Jesus knows the selfish condition of our hearts, and he wants us to change our ways. This parable speaks of anger and hatred against not only God, but against those who oppose him. This can be anyone-nonbelievers, criminals, terrorists, or persecutors.
Exodus 17:1-20 and Matthew 21:33-46 are similar stories. In both cases God has told the people what he wants them to do and how he wants them to live their lives, and in both cases the people rejected him. God has done everything possible to give Israel every advantage. He has established an everlasting covenant with them. He has led them through good times and bad. He has given them the Promised Land as their inheritance. He has even given them the law and prophets to guide them. Were the Israelites grateful to God? No. They accepted everything he offered except for the one thing he asked for in return, and that was to worship him and accept him as their Lord and Saviour. As a consequence, the Jewish leadership, which failed to produce good fruit, was disenfranchised and the vineyard was given to the church, which will produce good fruit. Jesus was not so much foreshadowing the shift of God’s emphasis from Jewish to Gentile realms as he was anticipating the replacement of Israel by the church, which united both Jews and Gentiles.
The same situation exists today. God has sent ministers, priests, preachers and godly evangelists such as Billy Graham to us to urge us to change our ways and accept Christ, but we and our worldly society continue to reject him. As men treat God’s people, they would treat Christ himself the same way, if he was with them. If we are faithful to Christ’s cause, how can we expect a favourable reception from a wicked world? Eventually, God will deal with those who reject him just like he dealt with the leaders of the Jewish people. The kingdom will be open only to those who believe him and are willing to do as he asks. Opposition to Jesus is a wrong response as is an attitude of apathy. Those who harbour such attitudes are in danger of being judged.
It is somewhat ironic that the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the Jews led to the foundation of the church-a body of believers who accepted him. It is an example of something that is rejected but that becomes something useful, something that changes history. Another example is Nelson Mandela. For decades he was a prisoner in a South African jail, but he emerged to become the first president of the new South Africa. He was so influential while he was a prisoner that the Apartheid regime held secret meetings with him while he was still in prison. Rebels, young and old, were held with him on Robben Island, and it became a training ground for political leaders. Slowly and painfully South Africa was reformed. A nonracial parliament was elected and chose Nelson Mandela as president. During his inauguration speech on May 10, 1994, he vowed that “never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.” The former prisoner was now president. Once rejected, he was now the cornerstone.
The attitude of the tenants is represented by the Pharisees. They were so concerned about obeying the Ten Commandments that they came up with many rules and regulations governing what the people could and could not do. In time, the Pharisees developed an attitude of being entitled to God’s kingdom even though they disregarded the spirit of God’s law and emphasized the letter of God’s law. They considered themselves to be the only people who were good enough for God’s kingdom. In reality, they rejected him even though they thought they were accepting him.
We have a similar attitude today. Our world is not a playground that God will let us live in. His commandments are a reminder that he has expectations for his chosen people-people who have been chosen not for privilege but for service and witness. When we try to be in charge, it speaks of privilege, our misuse of freedom, or our arrogance. We fall into the trap of thinking we have a right to the many blessings that are part of the world we live in-just like the Israelites thought that they had a right to the blessings God gave them.
If we want to avoid the same fate as the Jewish leaders-if we want to inherit the kingdom-we have to know what God wants us to do with our lives. The only way we can do this is through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Bible and worship. If we want God to bless our stewardship, we have to live righteously, care about each other and bear witness to our faith. In other words, we have to be fruitful and multiply.
Churches in the Third World are growing while churches in North America are in decline. Why? One possible reason is that people in the Third World are on fire for God and are filled with the Holy Spirit. They have few resources, but much enthusiasm for the Gospel-so much so that they are willing to share with anyone who will listen.
God wants tenants who will produce for him. Do we want to be his tenants? If so, what will we produce? If we produce, we will receive the kingdom of heaven. It can’t be taken by us. It can only be given to us, but we have to earn it first and then share it with others. The only rent God will charge us is our time, our abilities and a portion of our money. We are called to be stewards of our lives, to give of ourselves in the name of the Lord as ministers of Jesus Christ. We are to share ourselves, our time and our possessions as a sign of God’s love. Wherever we spend vast amounts of our time and energy working at a job, caring for a family, helping those in need, making sure that the less fortunate get a fair deal, etc., these are places for us to be conscious of the fact that we are doing work in God’s vineyard, and we will be held responsible for it at the proper time.
The task isn’t ours alone to complete. God has invested care and concern for the work we do in his vineyard, and in the end, God’s ways are what we are trying to accomplish. We must remember that we are only tenants, and the full responsibility for the success of our work is not only ours.
Giving grows out of loving, and loving comes from God. We know love because God first loved us. We have known love and so we love others in return. Giving is our response to God’s love, and our giving makes things happen. In fact, at the time I’m preparing this sermon it will only be a few days until we celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving-a time to give thanks to God for all he has given us, including the opportunity to bear good fruit for him. We are to be thankful for the portion of worldly things that God has given us, be content with what we have, and trust God to provide for the future.
Leadership must be about service and about nurturing God’s people. Actions have consequences. Good actions reap good consequences like appreciation, respect, a raise in income, etc. Bad actions reap bad consequences like disrespect, prison, other forms of punishment, or even death. The parable is a statement of God’s concern for his people and a declaration that God’s plan cannot be defeated by man. If we love God, we realize that he knows the best way for us to live. He knows how to keep us from following the ways of the world. He sent his son Jesus to pay for our sins so we could be free from sin and walk in a way worthy of him. Which consequences do we want to reap at the end of our lives?
- MacArthur, John: “MacArthur Study Bible: NASB” (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2006, 2008)
- Exegesis for Matthew 21:33-46. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- The Rev. Roy T. Lloyd, ELCA, “Wild Grapes and Productivity”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
- The Rev. Dr. Wiley Stephenson, UMC, “Who’s in Charge Here?” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions: 27th Sunday (A)” .Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Ira Brent Driggers, “Commentary on Gospel (Matthew 21:33-46)” .Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=145
- The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “October 2, 2011-Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, Year A”. Retrieved from www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work
- Fr. John R. Donahue, S.J., “God’s Labour Lost”. Retrieved from www.americanmagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=2501
- The Rev. Beth Quick, “Lectionary Notes-21st Sunday after Pentecost”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/pentecost21anotes.htm
- The Rev. Beth Quick, “Give and Take-Matthew 21:33-46”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/sermon10-2-05.htm
- Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “Whose Vineyard Is It Anyway?” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Dr. Mickey Anders, “Wicked Tenants”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Pastor Steve Molin, “Speaking of Us”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- The Rev. John Bedingfield, “Stewards of the Planet”. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Glen Copple, “What’s wrong with This World?” Retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/?Whats-Wrong-With-This-World?&id=1559975
- Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package
Fr. John Kendrick, O.P., “Working with God”. Retrieved from http://torch.op.org/preaching_sermon_item.php?sermon=5645