In many of Jesus’ parables, there is some kind of “happy ending.” Some parables end with a miraculous harvest, an unexpected family reunion, or a feast that only welcomes unlikely guests. As we read through today’s parable, we hope for a happy ending, but no. It gets dark, really dark. A landowner sends one servant after another to collect payment on a rented-out vineyard. Rather than getting paid, each servant is killed by a murderous tenant. In a final act of desperation, the landowner sends his son to collect payment, believing that he’d be safe. We might expect as a sign of God’s Kingdom that all will work out. Not so. The story gets dark, real dark. The son is killed too.
Jesus’ audience, comprised of Jerusalem’s religious leaders, understood that this parable was about them. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the “vineyard” is commonly used as a metaphor to refer to ancient Israel, God’s people. Those who cared for God’s “vineyard,” were the religious leaders and the kingly line. When things would go off track, God would send his prophets to help get the “vineyard” in order. Occasionally, however, these prophets and their message were not welcomed. Those who were called to “tend the vineyard” rejected them and even killed them. This is one of Jesus’ more obvious parables and his audience perfectly understood its message. They didn’t like it. Of course, they didn’t, because these tenants will participate in the death of God’s Son too. The plan is already in motion.
A recurring theme in the scriptures is that God comes to save humanity, but humanity doesn’t always want to be saved. When God sent his prophets—even when they came to pronounce judgment–God was reaching out to his people in love and grace. He wanted to save them. It’s important to remember that God did not love his people less when his prophets were rejected or killed. He continued to send his message of love. Jesus is the ultimate message of God’s love for humanity. Jesus brings that message to us knowing that it will cost him his life. In fact, he brings the message of God’s love to the very people who will take his life.
Remember this week that there is nothing you can do that will make God love you less. You can never reject him too many times. He keeps seeking you out. He keeps coming to you with grace. He has laid down his life so that you can know True Life, so you can know him.
Fr. Aidan is the Dean of Trinity Cathedral. He’s been married to Mel for 15 years and takes responsibility for the two incredibly cute but loud kids at church (Felicity, 5 and Solomon, 3). The Smiths also have a geriatric, one-eyed dog named Coho from Aidan’s hometown in northwestern Alaska.