Monday, September 26, 2011

Rejects Turned Gatekeepers

"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..."  
"Ah yes,  Isaiah 5."  thought the religious leaders to themselves.  "We know it well.  Israel is God's vineyard; a vineyard in which God has invested heavily, giving it every chance for success.  God has provided Israel with Torah, a land to live in, and the Temple to nurture its growth much as a vineyard owner might invest in his vineyard."
"...and leased it to tenants and went into another country."  
"Finally, Jesus is recognizing our authority a little bit.  We are those tenants.  God has entrusted his vineyard to us and we are caring for it by making sure radicals like this Jesus don't come in a destroy the harvest which God intends to reap and which we have worked so hard to protect."
"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."
"What? Wait a second.  We wouldn't do that!  That's how the pagans treat us!"
"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.'"
"Yes, the Messiah will set things right just like David did.  He'll teach those pagans to mistreat servants of God like us!"
 "But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him and 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?"
"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!"  
"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 marvelous in our eyes?"
"Why, of course, we've read Psalm 118.  We've been reciting it all week in preparation for the Passover along with the other Hallel Psalms.  Israel, faithful Israelites like us, are the stone which the nations rejected but which God chose to build into a holy nation.  Why would Jesus bring that up?"
"Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits."
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard this parable, they perceived that he was speaking about them.  They realized that they were the tenants after all as they had thought and that Jesus was calling himself the Messiah.  Jesus was aligning himself with the long line of prophets, God's servants, that Israel had rejected because he would be rejected like them.  But Jesus believed that God would vindicate him and those faithful Israelites who stood with him, taking the stone which the religious leaders had rejected and making it the chief cornerstone of his kingdom.  Jesus' claim made the chief priests and the Pharisees mad enough that they wanted to arrest him, ironically demonstrating that they were ready to act exactly like the tenants he had just portrayed them to be.  However, they were kept from doing so at the time because they feared the crowds who held that Jesus was a prophet.

In the Church, we also call ourselves the rejected whom the Lord has saved, that is, sinners saved by grace. But the story that Jesus tells turns Psalm 118 upside down.  It shows how easily those who regard themselves as "the stone the builders rejected" can become the very ones doing the rejecting.  Jesus declares that when we treat the grace we have received as mandate to become gatekeepers, then we have failed to bear the fruit he desires and the vineyard will be taken from us and given to those who will produce its fruit.

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