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Landlords and Tenants

Has anyone here ever had a bad landlord or a bad tenant for a place you rented out or managed? Wow. Would you look at that? Jesus picked a very nice illustration for us today that almost every one of us can understand.

Some fast facts background information: It’s Holy Week. Tuesday in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus has just had a debate with the Pharisees and embarrassed them more than ever. Jesus continues to speak except directly to the people now and the Pharisees remain in the crowd upset and overhearing.

Jesus teaches with a parable here using this tension of the landlord tenant relationship. There is a vineyard- one that is nice enough to rent out, which would have had a wall and watch towers and all kinds of amenities to keep higher end clients. The landlord does what they do, he wants to check on things and collect rent and so he sends a servant. The tenants are upset and they mistreat and send away the servant. This happens three times. Each time the landlord could have simply not just had the tenants evicted but had them killed. When we hear a story like our Gospel lesson we are tempted to demonize the tenants for their wicked ways. After all, they cheat, steal, and murder. The tenants are awful sinful people and we love to point out their flaws and feel good that we are not like them. A study was done where a researcher had numerous people try their best to write down every time they judge another person for any reason. All of the people estimated that they might do this a couple of times a week and found that they actually do it dozens of times a day!

We understand and certainly judge one another from different angles, the landlord, tenant relationship on display here, but Jesus now takes this to another level to set an understanding of Holy Week and what he is to accomplish.

God is the landlord- the vineyard owner- and we are the tenants. God gives us all kinds of gifts and blessings to use while we live out our lives in his created world and he does ask us to give him some of our blessings back. So for us this means that God gives us everything and he asks that we use our skills, abilities, and possessions, and time to give back to him who gave everything to us. He also asks that we fulfill our end of the lease, if you will, by following the roles he set up for us in the world. Then when we encounter his Word we can get upset and scheme to keep things to ourselves and do things our own way. So anytime we don’t put God first, we are the tenants.

So the landlord decided to send his son. He believes that surely his son will be respected. Instead the tenants realizing if the landlord dies and his son is dead any occupant simply inherits the land. So they kill the son and they toss his body over the wall at the edge of the vineyard.

Jesus stops the parable here and asks the crowd what will happen next? Will the landowner “destroy” the tenants?

Now Jesus is using this part of the parable to bring himself into the story. Just two days after Jesus speaks these words, some of God’s created people will break God’s laws and kill Jesus, God’s own Son. The tenants throw the owners body over the wall and leave it to rot. This was perhaps the greatest injustice a person could endure in Israel at this time. Jesus was killed by foreign hated occupying Romans being convicted in a sham trial on false charges with false witnesses, and dies perhaps the most humiliating and brutal death in the history of mankind.

But! If we are the tenants in the story, and we are, then we killed the Son.

Every time perhaps we have a bad interaction with a landlord, every time that we don’t help one another out with the blessings and abilities that God gave us, every time we think that we know best and we break God’s law. Every one of those moments, every one of those sins helped to put Jesus to death.  

Jesus teaches this parable on Tuesday of Holy Week. he knew that he was about to die. He knew every second, every word of his teachings counted all the more. He does not include this lesson for the people then or for you today in order to wrap you in guilt.

Jesus quotes this Psalm verse in order to teach it’s fulfillment.  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’

Jesus uses this prophesy to make clear that when he is rejected is exactly when and how he becomes the most important thing in our lives because he frees us from our sin. His death becomes our life. His suffering is our forgiveness. Jesus teaches this parable on Tuesday of Holy Week so we never forget that he is our cornerstone. He is our life. Now when we look on the cross we no longer see death, but life. Amen.

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