The Fruits of the Tenants

This sermon was given at Floreat Salvation Army on October 2 at the 6.00pm meeting. It is based on the passage Matthew 21:33-46.

It is not enough to simply be a tenant of God’s vineyard. He invested in us, and wants us to return a profit.

Let’s take a look at this parable. At times, it seems like a fairly straightforward parable – a pointed message at the Pharisees – however, as we look into it, we can find all sorts of meaning.

Jesus goes to great lengths to describe the vineyard. He could have just left it at “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard” but no, we hear that he put a wall around it, dug a winepress and built a watchtower. Matthew Henry in his commentary likens the Vineyard to God planting his church in the world. Henry explains the fence as God’s church being taken under his special protection, saying “Wherever God has a church, it is, and will always be, his peculiar care.” Henry also likens the winepress to the altar where burnt offerings were received, and the tower as the ordinances in God’s church, for the due oversight and promoting of its fruitfulness.

This is God’s church. He planted it, invested in it, built protection for it, a tower to watch over it, and he expects a return from it.

The owner of the vineyard entrusts his vineyard to some tenants, who would take care of the land in return of a portion of the profits. But they get greedy. When the owner sends his servants, they beat one, killed one, and stoned the third. When more are sent, in greater number, they receive a similar reception.

It is thought that in this passage Jesus is referring to the prophets that have come before him. The distinction between the first and second set of servants is thought to indicate the lesser and greater prophets. In any case, it is these servants who come to the tenants and ask “Where is the fruit which you have grown for my master?”

I see this as quite similar to the parable of the ten minas in Luke 19. The first servant turns 1 mina into 10, the second into five, while the third has hidden the mina away in a piece of cloth, afraid that the master was a hard man. The master rebukes him, saying that it would have been better to put it in a bank where it would have at least generated some interest.

In both cases, there comes a time where the master comes to seek what has been earned.

Coming back to the tenants, the master treated the tenants with every bit of respect. He did not require them to pay before the land had provided, instead he sent his servants “when the harvest time approached”. Henry also points out that the master sent the servants to them, reminding them of their duty and the rent-day, and to help them in gathering of the fruit. They were also there not to demand, but to receive. They were only there to collect what was owed to the master, nothing more.

While the implied meaning is most likely that the servants were prophets, even today we still have servants who come to remind us of our duty, and help us in gathering the fruit. People of faith that we respect, books that we may read, retreats that we may go on. I’ve been involved in a retreat called “Chrysalis” for the past 7 years no, and every year I meet servants of God who encourage me in my journey, to encourage me to reap the fruits that God has planted and entrusted to me. Each year that I take part, it comes in a different part, from a different person, but every year I have come away from the program feeling inspired and strengthened to continue to reap the fruit, and know that these servants of the master are alongside me as I go to collect.

But you’ll note that the tenants did not take kindly to this gentle reminder. They beat one, killed one, and stoned the third. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was the master of that vineyard, I would be sending the police round to deal with it, yet the master persists, sending the servants again. When the same thing happens to them, he sends his son, saying “They will respect my son.”

God is gracious, and persistent. While he sends his servants when he wants to collect the fruit, he will continue to wait. When we destroy those whom he has sent, he will send more. To the point of sending his son, who comes with more authority.

Sometimes it takes us a few reminders to understand what God is trying to say to us. When we don’t get it the first time, God is gracious enough to wait, to send more, and wait for us to hear what he is saying.

However, there are those who no matter how many times they hear the message, they think they can do it their own way. The tenants have this crazy idea that if they kill the son, they will be able to take his inheritance. Unless they believed the owner to be already dead, this was never going to be the case. It instead a gut reaction – they are governed by greed, rejection the Master and his sovereignty.

To these people – at the time, the Pharisees – he gives a pretty straight forward message. But for an even stronger conviction, their doom comes from their own mouths: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end.” It served as a strong warning to the Pharisees, who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus quotes to them Psalm 118. “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” – there is some uncertainty over what this stones role actually was. Some believe it to be the stone at the top of an arch, and without that stone, the whole arch would collapse. Others think that it is intended to be the corner-stone of the foundation, from which everything that follows is built on. Still others believe it to be the top stone of a set of stairs, that was different from the rest, that would finish off the stairs. No matter what it was, Jesus is saying to them that because they have rejected him, the kingdom that they think they will be able to take will actually be taken from them and given to those who produce fruit.

For us, this is just as powerful a warning, but in God’s graciousness, we are able to do something about it. We can pray for God to take action in our lives, to move though us and encourage us to produce the fruits he desires.

Yesterday, I had the Council of Churches General Meeting, which was held at the Coptic Orthodox church in Wanneroo. The Council of Churches make a habit of moving their General Meetings and AGM’s to their various member churches, who take the morning worship in their own tradition. So in the past couple of years of working there, I have been to a Catholic church, Romanian Orthodox church, Church of Christ, Anglican and Uniting, and you may remember a few years back that they held a meeting right here – though this was well before I even knew any of you, and before I was involved. However, yesterday we took part in one of the service of the hours. This is a tradition within Coptic Orthodox monasteries which goes back several hundred years. They hold prayers at the first, third, sixth, ninth, eleventh and twelfth hours of the day (which translates to 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 5pm and 6pm) as well as three services to be held between 9pm and midnight. Over the course of these prayers, they pray the entire book of psalms. One thing that really took away from that is that each service is to remind them of a certain aspect of Jesus’ life. The last service of the day is to remind them of Christ’s death, and that each day, we get to die “a little death” and rise anew in Christ.

It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you’re going to do.

It’s never too late to start listening to God, to open yourself up to the Holy Spirit, and to start producing the Fruits that God has called you to.

We’re going to sing the Potter’s Hand, and the chorus says

Take me mould me, Use me fill me, I give my life To the Potter’s hand
Call me guide me, Lead me walk beside me. I give my life To the Potter’s hand

If this is your prayer, the mercy seat is here. This place of prayer is open to all, for prayer, for healing, to be still, for whatever you need, God is here, waiting for you, to encourage you today.

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