When something makes no sense to us, we say, "How absurd!" Someone has said the height of absurdity is to sow weeds in the first half of your life and expect to have valuable fruit in the second half. Well what's even more absurd is to plant grapes, expect weeds, and still be able to make wine!
The absurdity begins with our rebellion against God. Although the parable in context is about how the leaders of the Church rebelled against God, it does apply to us. Like them God did everything for us to bring the wine of salvation from us. All the action verbs belong to God. He planted the vineyard, put up a wall, built a watchtower, and dug a winepress.
Just what sort of fruit did God expect from the church leaders and us but we rebelled by not giving it? You think we rebel by not giving God our money, by not sacrificing for Him, and by not going to church. Does that fit the context? Matthew tells us 2 verses after our text that the chief priests and the Pharisees knew this parable was about them. So, how did the Pharisees rebel against God? Not by not giving Him their money; indeed they gave not 10% of their income but 10% of their possessions. How did the chief priests rebel against God? Not by not sacrificing for Him; indeed they conducted the sacrifices. And neither Pharisees nor chief priests rebelled by not going to church; indeed they went to every temple service.
So how did they rebel? What fruit did they withhold from God? What fruit do we withhold? The fruit of sinners is sins. We won't give sins to God. We wish to keep our idols, that is, our personal ideas about God. We wish to keep our goodness by maintaining that we're good enough, at least better than some others. We wish to hold on to our sins. God can have all my money, sacrifice, and worship, but not my sins. How absurd!
Our rebellion in not wanting God to have our sins is absurd and so is God's patience with our revolt. God didn't send just one servant looking for fruit, but many. In Jeremiah God says He sent the prophets "again and again." What divine patience; what absurd patience. God repeatedly sent prophets over hundreds of years.
What did those prophets come looking for? What wouldn't the people they came to give them? They didn't withhold money, sacrifice, or worship, but their sins. "Go away! We've none to give up; we've none to admit to; we've none to be forgiven for. You're wrong; our sins are not as scarlet; they're not as crimson; they haven't gone over our heads!" If you think all the prophets wanted was better behavior, why did they come again and again pointing to a Forgiver rather than a trainer?
How absurd is God's patience with us! He continues to send servant after servant despite them being beaten, killed, and stoned. Why is stoned last? How is being stoned worse than being killed? Stoning was the punishment for blasphemers. The Lord's servant can ask for your money, your sacrifice, your worship all day long and since these are something the sinful flesh can give at least outwardly, it doesn't bother the flesh.
The flesh loves to be trained and motivated towards doing. The flesh feels best when it gives not receives, is active not passive, is full of vim and vigor, not helpless and dead. So go ahead and tell it "how to," bring on your 12 step programs, demand your sacrifice, and the flesh will be happy to do its best. But let the Lord's servant even hint that you're a sinner, that all you do, think, say, and give is nothing but sin, and your old Adam bristles. It's blaspheme to the flesh to say no matter what it does or gives it sins, so it thinks the Lord's servant deserves to be beat, killed, and stoned.
How absurd! Sinners think they can get away with abusing the Lord's servants. But even here we haven't reached the height of absurdity. That belongs to God. After sending His prophets again and again in the Old Testament, after they beat, killed, and stoned every single one of them, God sends His Son. But that's not all. After people show themselves to be so hardhearted and cruel to His servants, God still believes, "They will respect My Son." And what does Scripture say the Son came looking for? Better behavior? No, He too came looking for sins. "Repent the kingdom of heaven has arrived," is the summary of Jesus' preaching.
After seeing how terribly His servants the prophets were abused, you would think God would at least send His Son better armed, but He didn't. He sent Him in weak human flesh and blood; He sent Jesus not in power as the King of kings, but in weakness; God didn't send His Son in the holy, heavenly exaltation that belongs to Him from all eternity. No, He sent Him in humiliation.
It's humiliating for God the Son to take on flesh and blood through the womb of a virgin when He could've simply popped into the world as a full grown adult. It's humiliating for God the Son to suffer hunger, thirst, and pain. It's humiliating for Him to have colds and headaches, flu and diarrhea just like we do. It's humiliating for God the Son to be tempted in all the ways we are. It's humiliating for Him to have to be under the very laws He gave. And most humiliating of all is for Him to have to suffer, sigh, bleed, and die because we broke them all.
I've ran on ahead. I meant to illustrate only how absurd God's patience with sinners is; I ended up speaking of how absurd God's way of saving sinners was. It's important we not run by this too quickly because "we all know this." No, it is this that we don't know unless God through Christ keeps preaching it into our ears, putting it into our mouths and pouring it over our bodies. And God's way of saving us explains how the God who planted grapes, yet expected weeds, managed to produce wine.
God the Father does the absurd thing of sending God the Son into a world that had killed every single prophet He had sent to it. And though His Son never hurt them, indeed though He was living a perfect life in place of their imperfect one, they heartlessly killed Him. Make no mistakes about it; the Church leaders knew exactly whom Jesus was, the Son of God in flesh and blood, and they willfully nailed Him to a tree. All because they wouldn't give up their sins. And you are fooling yourself, if you don't think you would have done the very same thing if you had been there. Even today, people give up spouses, children, and the very Son of God rather than give up their sins.
Now here's the real absurd thing. The Church leaders' rejecting Jesus as a Stone unfit for their church led to His unjust execution. This led in turn to His becoming the Capstone for the entire building. The Church leaders wanted Jesus dead so they wouldn't have to admit to being sinners; God wanted Jesus dead to redeem sinners. God was pleased to crush Him, says Isaiah. God wanted Jesus to hang on the cross to suffer, to cry out, to shed one painful drop of blood at a time, to save you. It was God's will that in your place He keep the Ten Commandments that you couldn't, and that He die in your place the death of a damned sinner. So having fulfilled the will of God as a Man, the God/Man Jesus takes the place in heaven He earned as a Man.
Follow this: In the vineyard where God planted the perfect grapes of Adam and Eve, Satan introduced weeds. You don't expect anything from weeds but weeds. Not one of you expects a thistle in your garden to produce a tomato. So, from where God had planted good grapes, because of Satan's work, He only expected weeds. Therefore, God sent His servants over centuries looking for weeds, looking for sins, wanting sinners to give Him their sins. But they steadfastly maintained that they were not weeds but grapes; they weren't sinners but saints. Finally, God sent His Son, the perfect Grape, preaching, pleading for sins, and we sinners killed Him, but from this crushed, holy Grape comes the Blood of our salvation for us to drink as wine in the Holy Communion.
Now don't tell me that's not marvelous in your eyes Christian? Don't tell me that you don't stand back in awe at what God through Christ did though all sinners, all devils and all hell itself didn't want it done! Though we wouldn't admit to being sinners, for sinners Christ still died, and from this crushed Man who is also God flowed the wine of forgiveness, life, and salvation for sinners.
Therefore, bring Him your sins, your opinions, your ideas, your righteousness. Stop pretending that weeds like us will ever have anything but weeds to give. Stop thinking that the only way you can be righteous, good, or "Christian," is by defending yourself, trying your best, or by really feeling you're saved. No, the only way you can be righteous, good, or Christian is in Christ. All you can bring to the table is sin; He brings to the table forgiveness and righteousness. And dear sinner, He brings more forgiveness and righteousness than you have sins. You need not fear that if you bring this sin, that sin, or all those sins, Christ will say that's 100 too many, 10 too many, or 1 far too wicked for His blood to forgive.
How absurd! Do you know what the Latin absurdus originally meant? "Out of tune." Many churches are out of tune with the reality of this parable. They teach that the godly fruit Jesus wants us to produce is better works, added giving, and more enthusiastic worship. They think they can do this by instructing people how to live, giving them steps to follow, and by generating excitement in them toward God. No, our efforts can only produce the fruit of sin. The fruit of the kingdom of God must come from the King, Jesus. He's the Vine we're mere branches. His holy life produced the holiness God requires from us, and His innocent death produced a flood of Blood and Water from His side that covers our unholiness. When I substitute what I do, give, or feel for what Jesus did, give, and feels toward me, that's being absurd; that's being out of tune with Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XX (200521002); Matthew 21: 33-43