Here's my homily from our midweek Divine Service this past Wednesday, complete with a most interesting modern depiction of the parable and a picture of the grapevine that goes around the reredos at Hope's altar (mentioned toward the end of the homily).
Inheritance from the Vineyard
“This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.” Such cruel, vicious words, and yet it had to happen. And let’s thank God it happened.
When Jesus tells this Parable of the Tenants, He summarizes the whole story of the Bible, and He lets us in on the real purpose of His journey into our world and taking on our flesh and blood. You see, the tenants certainly wanted the vineyard for themselves, but they did not at all want a relationship with the vineyard Owner. Sounds like all of humanity after Adam and Eve fell into sin. Especially sounds like the nation of Israel when they were comfortable and prosperous in the Promised Land. They thought that they could run the vineyard just fine without the Owner. They thought that they could live life on their terms, under their control.
So when the vineyard Owner sent His servants, the prophets, the tenants did not like the reminder. Those servants reminded the tenants that the vineyard did not belong to them. They reminded them that they did not belong to themselves. And that was pretty uncomfortable! And how did they deal with that unsettling discomfort? Beat and kill the messengers. Pretend nothing happened. Continue thinking that they could live life on their terms.
Then the vineyard Owner sent His Son. “They will respect my son,” He said. No, He was not being naïve or ignorant. He full well knew that those wicked tenants would kill His Son. But He also wanted to confront them with what they should have done from the beginning—respect His Son; live life in a loving relationship with Him; fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, especially above themselves.
But the tenants saw a self-serving opportunity. Kill the Son, and they could have the inheritance all to themselves. Throw the Son out of the vineyard as if they were throwing out the trash. Little did they know that the inheritance would indeed come by killing the Son! How ironic.
And what was the vineyard Owner looking for all this time? The fruit from the vineyard. And what is that fruit? Faith—faith that wants to be in a relationship with the vineyard Owner, God Himself. Faith that says, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8).
There’s just one major, uncomfortable thing about that faith, though. It means that we must die to ourselves. We must kill not the Son, but our own egos that say, “It’s my life; I can do with it what I want.” How hard that is!
It’s so hard that the Son of God freely and willingly took our death upon Himself. He was thrown out of the vineyard and nailed to the cross in the garbage heap called Golgotha. But when He was tossed out like rubbish on the garbage heap, He brought life and immortality to light. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He suffered rejection and death and He rose again victorious to change us wicked tenants into loyal sons and daughters of the God who has always loved us. If anything, this parable shows just how God continues to love and forgive us even though we repeatedly reject Him in our doubts and unbelief. This is the Lord’s doing—loving us sinners—and it is marvelous in our eyes.
It is so marvelous that we can say with St. Paul: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” Yes, this Son who was killed for the inheritance really does give us the inheritance of God’s vineyard in His death and resurrection. And that puts all of life in a new and different perspective.
If you’ve been paying any attention to the news the past few weeks, you know how our nation’s economy has fallen on hard times. Perhaps you’ve even lost some of what you set aside for your retirement. Do not fear. You still have your inheritance of Jesus Christ and His forgiveness, life, and salvation. We can indeed count all things loss, especially our persistence in living life on our terms. You see, when we don’t have the Son of God, we really don’t have anything. But when we have Christ Jesus, we have more than we can imagine—life with our loving God, communion with our vineyard Owner, mercy and forgiveness for wanting to be in charge of all of life. As St. Paul says elsewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
In our Baptism, we are joined to the Son who was killed in order get the inheritance. When we die to ourselves and rise again in the life of Jesus, we receive His eternal “retirement plan.” And when we come to the Lord’s Table, we once again see how marvelous the Lord’s doing is in our eyes … and in our mouths. The very Body and Blood that was thrown out of the vineyard as rubbish is truly our treasure and delight. It’s the only source of real life.
When you come to the Lord’s Table this evening, take a look at the wooden reredos behind the altar. Notice what goes each side and across the top—a vine with grapes on it. Yes, here in this Holy Meal, we are restored to life in God’s vineyard. Here we are strengthened in the fruit that God looks for—faith in Him, in the Son He sends into the world, and in the Holy Spirit who gives us life. So come, and leave behind your desires and ways of living without God, the vineyard Owner. Come, and receive your inheritance. Amen.