5th Sunday in Lent

April 4, 2022


9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. (Luke 20:9-20 ESV)

Since the Transfiguration of Jesus when the ‘non-glowing’ Jesus descended the mountain he has been single-mindedly focused. Luke records that he ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’ (9:51). Our readings in Lent this year are not focused so much on the history of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and what he did when he got there but more on the theological truths of what is going on with Jesus and Jerusalem. We heard of Jesus not being bullied by Herod and Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. The context is clear – Jerusalem – but really it is all worldly authority from monarch or tyrant or elected official down to the toddler stamping his foot and screaming ‘mine’ – don’t want Jesus around, is threatened by Jesus, seeks to destroy Jesus because he is more powerful than we can ever be. Jesus, on his part, doesn’t have a death wish but rather loves those who reject him and continues to be present among them – he won’t be bullied or controlled – because of love.

Jesus’ continual presence brings about a crisis and we heard Jesus call out to people – to those living in Jerusalem who claimed special privilege almost by insinuating that other people are far worse than them – that everyone must repent or die. We can so easily hear this as our work, our responsibility, our effort, and if so then our reward. However the parable Jesus tells of the gardener pleading with the owner of a vineyard not to cut down the unfruitful fig tree down but to leave it for now while he works – dirty work – to bring about life and fruit points out that this repentance is not something we do on our own but is something Jesus brings about in us.


Last Sunday the Pharisees and the scribes – surely found all over Israel but concentrated where? – Jerusalem – grumbled at Jesus because he received sinners and ate with them without getting sinners to do something first – like repent and amend their lives. Jesus tells them a story of a father with two sons and we hear what happens to the younger son – the obviously rebellious one – but not what happens to the older son – the compliantly rebellious one. And we find that both sons have a father who goes out to them – who doesn’t stamp his feet and make them come to him – who defies convention and acts graciously towards them. And the parable doesn’t end – what will those Pharisees and scribes do?

Today we are in Jerusalem – and we find Jesus weeping over it for he can see their stubborn rebellion – and we’re in the temple courts – which, Luke records, on the previous day have been cleared by Jesus – and here he is telling a parable of wicked tenants in the vineyard who won’t pay the rent, who treat the owner’s servants violently (we get our word ‘trauma’ from the treatment they mete out to one of the servants) and worse still, these tenants claim inheritance rights – something no one really can do (oh, I wake up this morning and claim inheritance rights on Bill Gates’ assets – no!) – and they kill the owner’s son to get the vineyard for themselves. When told so bluntly even Jerusalem can see that this is evil but still they resist the truth and the consequences of that truth and retort ‘Surely not!’ (literally a much stronger phrase meaning more ‘God forbid’) when the owner of the vineyard comes and destroys the tenants and gives the vineyard to others.

Jesus doesn’t back down but replies with Scripture – in other words, ‘No, God doesn’t forbid this – listen to these passages – they are happening now!’. Luke records:
17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

And the response of the scribes and chief priests? They want to grab him then and there but fear the people and so instead organise spies to appear sincere but whose aim is to gather more information for an arrest.

Our journey in Lent is a journey on a theological terrain – you can overlay Israel and the streets and temple of Jerusalem if you wish – but this theological terrain is marked by delusion and death on our part – we think our world is lush and verdant and that we have power to make it better – we are god of it – but find in it an annoying man who won’t comply and worse still who seems to have the power to tear away at our illusion and show us death – within us as the consequence for our evil and in the world of our own making. What do we do with this annoying little man? We stomp on him! Get rid of him! Because he threatens us and we don’t trust him – and that’s the point and the mystery – that sin is a trap, a prison, evil that we choose when there are alternatives, something we won’t leave, in fact we claim it to be good and pour our rage and anger and hatred not on sin but on the one who keeps calling us to turn away and live. That is planet Earth’s natural response to God.

We know where this story is headed. Good Friday. The world wins. Jesus dies. Good!

But … we are here this morning because Easter Sunday follows that Friday and God had other plans – rescue plans – and raised Jesus from the dead and confronted us with peace and love and mercy and forgiveness. Jesus broke the power of sin and death and the devil to dominate and control us (willing victims) and instead brings new life, new birth, and a new theological landscape into being.

We are here together today – around words, water, bread and wine – because sin still clings to us and we find in ourselves a struggle to return to the old theological landscape – of rebellion and death – of wanting to lead and not wanting to follow – and we need to be fertilised, we need to hear the story of that gracious father again (whichever son we are), and we need to be told point blank that death follows sin but life follows Friday. Jesus is rejected by this world but he is our only Rescuer whom we meet always and only because of the cross.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And the wonderful news is that God has had mercy – that’s the good news – for today and for always! It is such good news that each day can be filled with it!

Bible References

  • Luke 20:9 - 20