1645) How Could it Happen? (a)

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Matthew 21:33-46:  (Jesus said), “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.  He put a wall around 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 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 marvelous 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…”

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.

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From Sunday’s sermon

            The most difficult situation I was ever involved in as a pastor was a funeral I did after a family of four was destroyed in a triple-murder suicide.  A man killed his wife, and then his two teenage step-daughters, and then he killed himself.  I was asked to do the funeral for the mother and her two daughters.  It was awful and it was frightening.

     What was so frightening was that the sudden violence seem to come out of nowhere.  By all outward appearances, this was a wonderful family.  The girls were both ‘A’ students, good athletes, and well-liked at school.  The mother was from a large local family, related by blood or by marriage to many in the community.  This was her second marriage, and this husband was from out of town; but he was well liked by neighbors and by his in-laws.  Everyone said he was a friendly and pleasant man.  To think that such a family, so normal and so loved, could be so violently destroyed from within the family itself was horrible.  Sudden death of any kind brings with it shock and grief and numbness and despair.  Death like this also brought anger, bewilderment, and fear. 

     “How could it happen?” everyone wondered.  Later, it was learned that bad things were going on in that little family, but no one will ever know for certain the whole story behind that tragedy.  And it did make everyone wonder what else could be going on under the surface of our quiet and friendly community.  When that kind of evil can rear its ugly head, and that kind of violence can erupt in a family where everything appears to be all right, it is frightening beyond words.  It makes us mistrust all outward appearances, no matter how calm and peaceful.

     I was reminded of that funeral after the horrible massacre in Las Vegas which has everyone asking the same questions and feeling the same fears.  Authorities still do not have a clue as to what motivated Steven Paddock to do what he did.  No one had any idea that he was planning the attack or was capable of such evil– not his brother, neighbors, or significant other.  He had no radical religious affiliation, no political ax to grind, no record of mental illness, and no history of violence.  I have a longer criminal record that he had, because I’ve had a couple of traffic tickets for speeding.  He didn’t even have that.  How do you go from nothing, to killing 59 people and injuring over 500 more?

     Paddock’s bewildered brother Eric said, “There are no clues, that’s the problem.  That’s what everybody is scared about now.  If Steve could do this, we are all in trouble because there’s nothing there to explain it.”  Why are we all in trouble?  The reason is summed up by one of the employees at a casino where Paddock often gambled: “He just seemed like another gambler,” the man said, adding, “Now I look at everybody and wonder.”  One does wonder.  That is how people felt after at the funeral of that mother and her two daughters.  The feeling wears off after a while, but that’s a lousy way to have to live.

     It is a bit of a stretch to relate this to the Matthew 21 reading above (last Sunday’s Gospel reading in my church), but did you notice there were at least two murders in that little parable of Jesus?   A landowner rented his vineyard out, and when he sent his servants to collect the rent they were beaten and one was killed.  Then he sent more servants, and the same thing happened.  And then, in a most unexpected move, the landowner sent his own son, apparently thinking that those wicked men would respect him, and they could be won over peacefully.  Then, even the son was murdered.

     There is much going on in this little parable.  First, there is the amazing grace and patience of the landowner.  He gives those wicked tenants every opportunity to change.  But they respond to that grace and good will by getting worse.  Then Jesus doesn’t finish the parable, but he asks his listeners what they think should happen next.  And they announce the harsh word of judgment, saying “those wretches should be brought to a wretched end.”  That’s what the people themselves say should happen to those who reject such amazing grace.  Jesus then applied the parable to those who were rejecting him, saying “I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”  The religious leaders get the point, and they know that Jesus is talking about them.  But how do they respond?  They want to respond just like the wicked tenants who got rid of the owner’s son.  They want to get rid of Jesus.  They want to have him arrested, but they are afraid of the people.

     You know the rest of the story.  In time, they will arrest Jesus, and they will get rid of him.  (continued…)