Good morning and welcome to Friday’s podcast. My name is Alan and it has been a pleasure to lead you through this week’s reflections on Matthew’s Gospel and wasn’t it good to hear from Becky Wilson, our Eden team leader on Wednesday. If you’ve not heard it yet, go back and listen, it’s well worth your time. Next week James Brown will take over the reins and lead us through the next two chapters of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life.
Today we come to the end of chapter 21. Our reading for the day is from v33. This section of Matthew’s account contains just one story told by Jesus, a parable that was a direct challenge to those who heard it. I’m going to read the passage now rather than at the end. Chapter 21:33-46
‘Listen to another parable: there was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall round it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
‘The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them in the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said.
‘But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
‘Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’
‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvellous in our eyes”?
‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.’
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.
In the parable, God is the Landowner, the tenants are the nation of Israel, the servants sent to collect the fruit are the prophets…It is a direct message from Jesus to the chief priests and elders of the people, those in the crowd who heard him and sought his death… which is all very well… but what on earth has this got to do with us? We didn’t kill the prophets, we are on Jesus’ side, so surely we get to stand alongside him, point the finger and shake our heads at the failure of others – at the failure of Israel and its leaders
Yes, it’s a parable that was spoken to challenge the people of Jesus’ day. Yes, it has direct relevance to those who heard it. Yes, they are the ones who have killed the prophets and who will go on to kill Jesus. Yes, it’s a parable bringing the failure of Israel to light – Israel, a nation who had been chosen to show the world what lives lived for God looked like but had failed time and time again.
Yes Jesus says that he will take the kingdom from Israel and give it to those who will produce its fruit – people like you and me… but can we simply dismiss it as a message for them and move on… or can we learn something about God, about ourselves and about his expanding kingdom?
What we see in Jesus’ words are the pitfalls common to all of us humans. If we have ears to hear, his words will impact us and they will provoke a response.
So what can we learn?
Firstly, Kingdom people will be fruitful – Just as a river flowing through the desert causes life to flourish where ever it flows, so a life with God will overflow and produce a harvest. It is inevitable. It is unstoppable. We know that our relationship with God isn’t due to our work – we don’t earn our place in his royal court – but, connected to the father, his grace and love change us and that change will affect everyone around us. Fruitfulness is a result of our intimate relationship with God, relationship made possible by Jesus on the cross. So, if we are not fruitful, we don’t work harder, we don’t try harder… instead we must draw closer and listen more intently for the father’s voice. Fruitfulness comes from hearing and following.
Next, Jesus talks about God – the landowner sending servants to collect what’s due: a share of the produce from the land.
This is the rent for the use of the land but it is also indicative of the tithe – the portion of Israel’s crops and wealth that was to be an offering to the Lord. It was part of the Israelite’s worship of God, it was an act of thankfulness and recognition that everything the Israelites owned had been provided by God.
The tithe would prevent the Israelites thinking that their abundance was due to their own cleverness – that their own ingenuity, strength and skill had made them great. You see worship gives us perspective, it stops us from thinking too highly of ourselves. Worship ascribes worth to God. He is great, he is the one who provides for us, he is the one who will bring success, he is the one who will protect us, he is the one who will lead us forward and show us which way to go.
When we forget… when we think that all we have is ours… when we begin to think that we have somehow earned all we own… when we become reliant on our own abilities and provide for ourselves… we inevitably look to our own interests and not the interests of others. We become stingy and self centred. It shuts us down… we become unloving and unfruitful.
In the story the tenants had forgotten that the very soil they stood on belonged to someone else: God! It had been given to them… the abundance of their crops was down to someone else: God! It was a gift from the one who simply asks for recognition of his place in their lives. Will God go hungry if Israel didn’t offer sacrifices? no! In the same way, does God need our worship – our thanks? No! But our lives shrink when we forget the giver, when we feel compelled to provide for ourselves, when we seek security in all that God has given to us and not find security in the giver himself.
Intimacy and close proximity to God are the only way to be fruitful. We cannot do it on our own, it simply does not work. Thankfulness – recognition of who has provided for us frees us to be generous. We are able to give because it no longer contradicts a need to provide for ourselves and provide our own security. No, God is back in his rightful place as the source of our everything… our hearts flourish, fruitfulness follows.
So let’s be thankful people. Let’s recognise that what we have is the Lord’s. And as we recognise the giver and realise that his supply is inexhaustible, let it overflow in generosity to those around us. Jesus said, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.”
Father thank you for everything you have given us, from the homes we grew up in, the education we had access to, the talents and skills you have enabled us with, the money in the bank, the food in the fridge, the car in the drive, our health both emotional and physical… all of it, every last thing that is good in our lives… it is all from you, thank you.
Father, as we recognise that all we have is from you, we ask that you would use us… our resources… our talents and skills… We offer everything in service to you and your kingdom that we might bear fruit that will last. Amen.