Today’s Scripture: Matthew 21:33-46
“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” (Matt. 21:43)
“A very small percentage of those in the church stand behind a pulpit or sport certain kinds of identifiable clothing. The actual leadership roster of the church includes disciples ministering in every arena of life, in business, law, medicine, education, the arts, sciences, government, and religion. The objective of Jesus’s church-growth strategy was not to build a single, behemoth social institution with a limited set of ordained authorities. Instead, his Spirit was to be poured out on all flesh to effect a widening, deepening base of influence within every nation, worldview, and social institution.” ― Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth
As we enter Holy Week, we have in today’s scripture, Jesus had entered the final week of his life. Jesus has only a limited amount of time to remove any doubts about his mission and message among both his disciples and enemies alike. It was time to increase the intensity. So Jesus lays out this accusatory parable.
Jesus offers a parable, but a rough relationship between owner and tenant. The parable is not a story of a landlord who abuses his power and fails to care for those living on his land. The parable targets the tenants who take advantage of the landowner's trust and generosity.
The message was clear. God is the landlord who has leased his vineyard, his kingdom, to local laborers. God leased the vineyard fully expecting that the laborers would produce a good and fruitful crop. The time comes when for God wants a report on the fruitfulness of the land he has provided to them. He wants to see faith in his promises, repentance of sins and trust in his messengers. He wants his vineyard producing a wine that leaves the boundaries of the kingdom walls and fills the entire world with the goodness of what he grows. But rather than produce a measurable crop for the owner, the vineyard's residents have sat on their hands and have nothing to show him. As if that weren't bad enough, they murdered every servants (prophets) he'd sent to represent his interests.
"Enough is enough," Jesus proclaimed. A time was at hand, “When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.” (Matthew 21:34). God is no nasty slumlord. Israel was proven itself as an unfaithful and unfruitful tenant. The time of eviction had come. The time for new tenants, faith-filled, Messiah-following, cross-focused tenants, tenants capable of producing a fruitful crop had arrived. Soon after saying all of this, Jesus would be arrested.
It would be tempting for us today, the body of Christ, who are the new tenants manning the vineyard, to read these words as simply a rebuke of the old guard. But that would be terribly shortsighted. No, if your landlord feels the need to recount stories of previous renters who failed to pay on time, threw parties that garnered visits from the police, and who dared to paint walls without permission, he's not simply reminiscing about the past. It's an instructional exercise for our current behavior and responsibility as the tenants of the kingdom of God, who are expected to produce a good and fruitful crop.
God isn't about to kick the church out of the kingdom and start from scratch. That's not in the plan, but God does in fact expect results. God has given us the means and ability to produce fruitful results, God gave us the Holy Spirit to assist us and give us the strength and power to achieve results. This parable is highly instructive for us. From it we can discern what God's expectations are for those who've been given the task of living in his kingdom, producing fruit and sending wine into the world.
This is a parable about stewardship and caring for what God has graciously given us. Managing God's stuff on God's behalf. As tenants of the kingdom of God, we've been entrusted with two things: the gospel of Jesus Christ and our personal, worldly goods. Both come from God. Both are to be used in service to God. The gospel is the message that despite humankind's universal rebellion against God's authority, God desires a reconciled relationship with us. God has pursued us through the sending of his Son and made reconciliation possible through that same Son's sacrificial death on the cross. Because of the cross, the entire world is now welcome to enter the vineyard and labor under God's love.
What kind of tenants are we? We have been entrusted with much. We are the new inhabitants of God's incredible vineyard. God expects that life-giving wine must flow from the work of our hands in God’s kingdom. We have been called to produce much as the good stewards of the kingdom. Jesus reminds us, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” (Matt. 21:43) If we do not produce the good fruit God expects, God will find others who will.
Today’s Lectionary Readings
Morning: Psalms 119:73–80; 145
Evening: Psalms 121; 6
Jeremiah 11:18–20; 12:1–16