A Call To Repent

October 2, 2005
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 21:33-46

The Vineyard Owner And the Farm Hands

1. The parable of Jesus that we read today begins with the following words. "Listen to another parable. A certain master over a house built a vineyard, enclosed it with a fence, dug out a winepress in the middle of it, set up a watch tower, rented it to some peasants [or farm hands] and then went on a trip," (verse thirty-three).

2. As he says, "Listen to another parable," this is a continuation of what he said just before. The setting is the temple grounds. When Jesus was teaching there, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and found fault with him and said, "By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?" In verse forty-five, it has "the chief priests and the Pharisees." The parable that we read today is speaking to the Jewish leadership.

3. The text says that they heard this parable and saw that "Jesus was speaking about them." Therefore, we should see that "the farm hands" that appear in this parable stand for the leadership of Israel, that is, the chief priests and the Pharisees and such. That being the case, then "the owner and master" is God and the vineyard will stand for "Israel."

4. The Bible says that the owner of the vineyard "rented it to the farm hands and went on a trip." It makes sense then, that the farm hands were entrusted with the management of the vineyard and were not given it [to own]. What they were given was a job to do in the vineyard. But, in this parable, the farm hands act like they are the vineyard owners.

5. As the chief priests had surmised, Jesus was obviously speaking about them. In other words, Jesus was saying that the same stuff as in this story was taking place in Israel, too. The chief priests and the Pharisees were standing above the people because their being in a leadership position was because God made them leaders over Israel. God gave them a responsible job to do in Israel, but he did not give Israel itself to them. But, they were acting like they were the owners of Israel.

6. What it boils down to is that their problem, which Jesus had sharply seen through to, was that they had not figured out that the farm hands were farm hands. Put in other words, it boiled down to the fact that they had been confused in the relationship of the owner and the peasants. They had been confused in their relationship with God the true owner and master.

7. But, it's not just in Israel during the time of Jesus that things like this happen. We should consider this matter as a matter that pertains to us. The figure of Israel is a microcosmic picture of the world. We're included in it, too.

8. The master of this world is God. Humankind did not build this world. It was the vineyard owner who "built the vineyard, enclosed it with the fence, dug out the winepress in the middle of it, set up the watch tower." But, in this world, humankind acts as if [we] are the owners of the created world. [Humanity] acts as if it made the world. Of course, whenever a mess comes up as it does, we might stop and think. We have environmental problems. We have nuclear problems. We think we might be able to solve them some how. Even though we might wrestle with the many problems of this world like that, in conclusion, we can only come to realize that "It is because humankind, as owners of this world, have gotten [themselves and the world] into a mess." Therefore, we will never solve the real situation. -- Because the true problem is that we have confused the relationship of the master and the peasant.

9. It's the same even in [our] little individual lives. We often live like we are the owners of our lives and come off with the attitude that we're the boss. Even in thinking of the future, we only think of "my life" as "How can I do something meaningful and fulfilling with it?" It's like that even in child-to-parent relations. What has been given to the parents is not the child itself, but the duty to raise the child. But, parents act as if they are owners. They say, "My child, my child." Then as problems crop up, they struggle and begin searching for the source of the problem. However, the real problem lies in their confusing the relationship of the master and the peasant. At root to most any bad thing lies this fundamental problem.

The Master Sends His Own Servants

10. Well, the parable goes on to say this. "Then, when the time of the harvest had come, in order to collect the harvest, he sent his servants to the peasants. But, the peasants seized the servants, and beat one, killed one, and stoned one to death. Then he sent other servants more than before, but the peasants gave them the same bad treatment," (verses thirty-four and thirty-five).

11. "The servants" appearing in this text are the prophets who have repeatedly been on the scene in the Old Testament. For the chief priests listening to this, John The Baptizer would correspond to them. A prophet is not merely somebody who predicts the future. As the Bible says it in Japanese as "custodians of the word," they were men entrusted with the word of God, to communicate it. God repeatedly sent prophets to the Israelites. [Through the prophets] God repeatedly called out to them to "Turn back [to me]." I could also put it like this: God repeatedly called out to them not to live as owners of the vineyard, but as the workers in it. That was how he had called out to them to turn back to a true relationship [with Him].

12. After understanding the owner's actions, the words from verse forty are important. When Jesus asks them, "When the owner of the vineyard returns, what will he do to these farm hands?," the chief priests who were listening answered as follows: "He will be harsh and kill the evil doers, and he will have to rent out the vineyard to other peasants who will pay him [his due of] the harvest each season." In summary, just as the chief priests who had been listening to him had understood it, this was the main premise of the story [and the subject of his speech]. The master could very well instantly wipe out the peasants. It's about the fact that he has that kind of power. When you think about it, it's hard not to say how surprising it is that the master had kept sending his "servants." The peasants beat the servants that were sent and wound up killing them. That's what had happened. Nevertheless, the master did not want to settle the situation with the power that he had to destroy them. He wanted to settle by calling out to them patiently and persistently.

13. In contrast, the hired hands treated the servants sent back out again to them in a very bad way, which meant that they had no ears to hear their master's calls to them. The very same thing happened for a fact in Israel, and the same thing is going on in the world as well. As I already mentioned, "The problem lies in their confusing the relationship of the master and the peasant." But, going a step further, we may also add that "The real problem lies in their stubbornness in refusing to mend that confused relationship."

The Master Sends His Own Son

14. The parable shows a surprising development. It is written as follows: "Then afterwards, the master said, 'If it were my son, they would respect him,' and he sent his own son. The peasants saw the son and said to each other, 'This is the heir. Hey, let's kill him and then we'll make his inheritance ours.' Then, they seized the son, and threw him outside the vineyard and killed him," (verses thirty-eight and thirty-nine).

15. With that then, we can't avoid saying that the actions of the master were foolish. "If it were my son, they would respect him." -- That was so very foolish. But, as it is expressed in this parable, God did become foolish. To love hard to love people means one becomes totally foolish at times.

16. In direct contrast to this, if it were from the perspective of "the wise God" out there which humans always portray, what might have happened? The dreadful judgment of God would have definitely already fallen upon them. But, God didn't do that. "The master sent his own son." -- That's what the scripture says. Thus, God sent Jesus Christ, his son.

17. How ever foolish it might have been, at the least, the will of the master had been definitively expressed through his having sent his son. First, the master['s will was] that he did not desire to resolve matters through destruction by force. Second, [the master's will was] that he did desire the peasants to return to a proper relationship with the master. Third, [the master's will was] that he would be willing to forgive the sin of their having rebelled against their master and to accept them as workers, if they were to return. -- That is the will of God, which has been stated expressly in this parable. In that sense then, the existence or the life of Jesus Christ is a definite expression of God's will towards the world, and it is God's final call to them.

The Rejected Stone Becomes The Chief Cornerstone

18. But, this [same] Jesus Christ was crucified and killed on the hill of Golgotha on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The parable turned out true, that "they seized the son, and threw him outside the vineyard and killed him." It was a few days before it [all] happened that Jesus had given this talk [to them]. Having known [full well] the kind of road he would traverse, he had given this talk [to them].

19. At that point the Lord asks the chief priests, "When the owner of the vineyard returns, what will he do to these farm hands?" The chief priests give an ending to it that one would naturally anticipate. They say, "He will be harsh and kill the evil doers, and he will have to rent out the vineyard to other peasants who will pay him [his due of] the harvest each season." But, the fact is the scene where "the vineyard owner" comes back right away and destroys the evil workers does not appear in the text of this parable. What they said here does not actually take place. God's ultimate judgment does not fall.

20. Instead, the event which actually takes place is expressed in the words of a Psalm from which Jesus quoted. The Lord quotes from the words of Psalm one hundred and eighteen. "The stone which the builders of the house have rejected, this, has become the chief corner stone. This is what the Lord has done, and it seems marvelous to our eyes." "The stone which the builders of the house have rejected" stands for Jesus Christ. Jesus had certainly been rejected by the hands of men and women. His being crucified tells us that. It looks like God's last call had unfortunately returned void. But, it wasn't over yet. Instead, something decisively brand new had started from that point. The stone that was regarded as rejected turned out to be the chief corner stone of a new house.

21. The rejected and crucified Jesus Christ turned out to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin. From then on the gospel of the forgiveness of sin would be proclaimed brand new. The church was born. Jesus Christ turned out to be the corner stone of the church for sure. Paul put it like this when he wrote: "Therefore, you are no longer foreigners, nor sojourners, but are those who belong to a holy people, the family of God, and are being built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. Its cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself, and in Christ the whole building is joined together and grows, and becomes a holy temple in the Lord. In Christ you are being built up together, and you become a dwelling place for God through the work of the Spirit," (Ephesians 2:20-22).

22. In this manner God continued his call for repentance out to them. Certainly, the Lord said, "The kingdom of God is being taken back from you." But, that didn't mean that the Jews were being abandoned by God. In fact, the early church was comprised of Jews who did respond to the Lord's call and returned to him. God is calling out to the Jews who have denied Christ, and he invites them into his grace even right now. In addition, he is calling out to this world which has been denying Christ, and he is inviting it into his grace right now.


23. O Father God, you are calling us, over and over, to turn to you. I am thankful that you are working incessantly for us that we, arrogant though we be, might come to live at the point where we place ourselves under your sovereignty, where we truly ought to be. I am thankful that because of your loving kindness and patient generosity, we have been permitted to be here in this place now. Please allow us to become a people who live by giving you glory. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.