Word for Word 4/17/19

Rev. VanderVelden
Rev. Grant VanderVelden

Someone once described parables of Jesus as “narrative time bombs” - stealthy little stories that steal their way into your heart with their comfy tales about everyday things with which most folks can identify: farmers and seeds, women and bread-baking, fathers and son, landlords and tenants.
But then, without warning, the parable’s volatile fuel detonates, and BAM!

You’re thrown off balance and knocked off your feet as the parable blasts new awareness and understanding into your oftentimes heavily fortified heart and armor-plated mind.

“Jeepers! I thought Jesus was just talking about farmers planting seeds or the problems parents have with their kids, but what he’s really talking about is me, and everyone else, and our relationship with God! And, uh-oh, we don’t come off looking so good!”

If you buy into the idea that parables are narrative time-bombs, then the “Parable of the Wicked Tenants” (Matthew 21:33-36 and Mark 12:1-12) is more like a rocket-fired grenade that blows up in your face.

The who’s who and what’s what of this parable aren’t all that hard to figure out: God is the landowner; God’s Kingdom and the people in it are the vineyard, and the religious leaders of Jesus’s day in particular and the self-righteous in general are the tenants.

And the point Jesus is trying to make is a concise retelling of the history of God’s interaction with God’s people.

Evil has infected the world and the people that God created, and God has sent messengers in the form of prophets with a demand that we clean up our act. But, we’ve somehow always managed to ignore what those prophets had to say and even killed a few of them along the way.

So now, the Lord takes matters into his own hands and comes to us in person - in no one other than Jesus himself - in hopes that surely HE will command the respect not given to other prophets.

But no, not so much.

While some of us do have eyes to see who Jesus really is and ears to hear the fullness of what Jesus has to say, others - in this case, the religious leaders of Jesus’s day along with a good number of equally pious types today - turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to Jesus.

And so, like the religious leaders who are more than a little miffed over what Jesus has to say, you and I get more than a little huffy when Jesus calls us on the carpet for the ways in which we reject God’s call to turn our lives around and head in a new, more fruitful direction.

Like it or not, you and I are the crazy tenants - or at least we have our moments of acting like the crazy tenants, and the future doesn’t look or sound particularly bright for the crazy tenants no matter who gets counted among that foolish lot.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do?” Jesus asks.

Apparently, one day, he’ll be knocking at the door to serve a fatal eviction notice that does away with the crazy tenants once and for all. Which in a lot of ways makes the landlord as crazy as the tenants!

Only a crazy person would send servant after servant after servant into this brood of angry vipers only to have them beaten and tossed out on their keesters. And then, after all that bloodshed and carnage, to turn around and throw his only son into this deep pit of evil?

The crazy tenants beat the blue blazes out of all the servants, so what makes this crazy landlord think that his only son’s going to fare any better?

When you get right down to it, the only one crazier than the tenants in the story is the landlord who, as it turns out, must be crazy desperate to restore right relationship with these crazy, wayward tenants - crazy desperate like a loving parent who will do absolutely anything and sacrifice apparently everything to save those whom he calls to live and abide with him.

So, the take-away from this parable isn’t just a warning to the self-righteous or a turning up of the heat on the boiling tension between them and Jesus.

This is a story about a God who loves us - each and every broken, imperfect one of us. The sane ones, the crazy ones, and the ones in between.

This is a story about a God who loves us enough to do whatever it takes - up to and including sending the Only Son to release us from the death grip that evil has wrapped around our throats.

This is a story about a God whose intensive love for us is pictured in the rough-hewn edges of an old rugged cross, and a story about a people who, having experienced that kind of sacrificial love for themselves, turn right around and share that same kind of forgiving, merciful, grace-filled love with friend, neighbor and stranger.

BAM! The parable time-bomb just exploded!


Rev. Grant M. VanderVelden

First Presbyterian Church, Waukon

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