Last week the Gospel lesson was the story of the Prodigal Son, or rather, the Prodigal Father. We meditated on the sweetness of God’s love for his children. The abounding love of a Father who upon the return of a repented son, breaks with every form of propriety and tradition, and runs out to the road to embrace him.
But today’s Gospel lesson is not as attractive as last week’s. We love to hear about God’s unceasing love- his longsuffering and constant longing for harmony with his children. We rejoice in the fact that God’s love wipes away all our misdeeds upon our repentance…
We rejoice in the fact that for those who place their trust in Christ Jesus that their sins are forgiven, wiped away, and forgotten.
But what about for those who reject God’s constant reaching out? What will happen to those who instead of turning to God in repentance remain stiff-necked in their insolence? What will God do to those who reject him, and hate him, and trample upon God’s constant effort to build a reconciled relationship? We oftentimes build an image of God’s love that is distorted and dysfunctional. We create a false idol. We create a god that we can abuse, debase, rebel against, discredit, doubt, insult, despise, reject, and yes, even persecute. But then on Judgment day rewards us with salvation… because he is, after all a “God of Love.”
Yes! God is love, but God is also a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29)- and God will hold accountable those who trample on the grace that he extends to all people.
Today’s Gospel lesson was given by Jesus just a few days before his Crucifixion. The Lord was at the end of his last journey through the little towns and villages of Israel- and this was it- in a few days he would be murdered for our sins.
Before arriving to Jerusalem, the Gospel of Luke (18: 31-33) tells us that the Lord pulled his Twelve Disciples aside and said to them:
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him- but on the third day he will rise again.“
Jesus was no coward…like a brave D-Day Marine who landed on the shores of Normandy with nowhere else to go but forward- Jesus drove forward to meet death head on. While teaching in the temple, Jesus was surrounded by many of the members of the Sanhedrin, the chief priests and elders of Israel. They were actively trying to get him to say some sort of blasphemy so they can get him prosecuted and killed…
So the Lord looked at the people and told them another story… A story that reflected the relationship between the religious authorities of Israel and GOD.
The Lord based his parable on Isaiah 5, where God compares Judah and Israel with a vineyard. The parable says that the owner of the vineyard RENTED his property to some TENANTS and then went to a far country.
The TENANTS represented those who were supposed to care for God’s vineyard…God’s people. The owner gave everything they needed to make the vineyard yield its crop. The owner didn’t want ALL of the benefits of the vineyard…he only wanted his portion.
God gives us EVERYTHING we need- He gives us food, clothing, work- a place to live, even ENTERTAINMENT… God wants us to LIVE life- to enjoy it…to rejoice in the fruit of our labors. To enjoy our relationships…to laugh and to celebrate- To eat, and drink and be merry. But our sinfulness seeks to HOG over everything…We tend to want EVERYTHING for ourselves…and not give God the portion that is due to Him. And what is the portion that God seeks? What is the crop that God desires?
Isaiah 5:7 says that the fruit the Lord seeks from his vineyard is simply justice and righteousness.
Let me ask you a question: who benefits from our justice and righteousness? Does God benefit? No- keeping God’s commands is for OUR BENEFIT. The few commands that God has given us are actually common sense instructions… They’re akin to instructions we give to children like: don’t touch the oven…or don’t put your finger in the electric socket- or don’t run with scissors in your hands…When my boys were in preschool they learned a rhyme that to this day has served to keep them safe:
Stop, look and listen before you cross the street. First use your eyes and your ears, then use your feet.
1 John 5:3 says that God’s commands are NOT BURDENSOME.
So God sent prophets to Israel represented by servants in the parable… to collect “some of the fruit of the vineyard” (Lk. 20:10). But what did the tenants do with every one of the servants- the prophets? The tenants BEAT them and sent them away “empty-handed.”
Another servant they treated SHAMEFULLY and sent away. Another they WOUNDED and cast out of the vineyard. What else was the owner to do? Wasn’t the owner long-suffering and merciful? Was not the owner of the vineyard LOVE? How many chances did the owner have to give to the tenants in order to be considered fair and loving?
So the owner decides to give them one last chance- and in another case of reckless love- the owner sends his BELOVED SON- to speak with the tenants- “perhaps they will respect him” the owner said.
You know- we don’t talk about the doctrine of Hell too much because for many of us it’s incomprehensible how a God that is LOVE can torture souls eternally in Hell. Can YOU send people to be tortured in a fiery pit where the Bible says the worms do not die- a fire that is unquenchable? I could NEVER send anyone to Hell for an eternity- not even my worst of enemies.
But just as I could not send people to Hell to be tortured, I could never give up one of my Sons to die for anyone…even less for criminals.
The Prodigal Father- the Owner of the Vineyard- became the Father of a Murdered Son.
Put yourself in his shoes…what would YOU DO? God gives a million and one chances…but he will not hold unaccountable those who trample upon the blood of his Beloved Son!
And just as God judged the religious authorities of Israel by destroying the Temple in 70 A.D. and destroying Jerusalem- in the same manner God will indeed hold accountable those who make a habit of rejecting the many invitations of God to reconciliation. How many gracious invitations does God have to extend to a stiff-necked people who not only treat God as their enemies, but also trample on the blood of his Son by rejecting his grace and mercy?
The Bible says in Hebrews 10:26-27- “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the ADVERSARIES.
When the religious authorities heard that the Father of the murdered Son would come to the vineyard to kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others…their answer was “God Forbid! May this never be!”
Look at the INSANITY of sin… you would think that they would feel at least a tinge of CONTRITION in recognition of God’s Mercy! They weren’t concerned with the fact that the prophets had been slain…or that the beloved Son would be killed…They WANTED to kill him- and ANYONE that stood in the way of them being in charge of the vineyard would also be destroyed…
But isn’t that what the main problem is all about? That many times we’re not happy with being TENANTS? We don’t want to be TENANTS- we want to be OWNERS. We don’t want to submit to a LORD- we WANT to be THE LORD…and we want God to be OUR TENANT and serve us!
Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22- “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” And then he added: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
You see, we can all take Jesus and deal with him like we would deal with a small stone in a garden. We can rake him out of the way and cast him out- and pretend as if he never existed. But eventually we will all have to deal with this one stone.
And those who reject the stone- will indeed reap the consequences for their continual rejection. They will either trip over it and be broken into pieces or the stone will fall on them and destroy them when God comes to judge the nations. (Daniel 2)
But for those who build their lives upon Christ and place their trust in him- they will come to be like one of the bricks of God’s Temple- held together by the sure cornerstone- which is Christ.
So I urge you today- accept the invitation of God and do not be a partaker with those who trample on the blood his Son.
When God comes to judge the living and the dead- what will you be: Will you be the repentant son of a Prodigal Father- a Prodigal Father who embraces and kisses repentant sinners?Or will you stand before him- like an adversary standing before the Father of a Murdered Son.
Kiss the Son! Make peace with the Son- turn to the Son and take refuge in him, and God will embrace you as his own.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son+, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.