Luke 20:9-19 (CEV)
9 Jesus told the people this story:
A man once planted a vineyard and rented it out. Then he left the country for a long time. 10 When it was time to harvest the crop, he sent a servant to ask the renters for his share of the grapes. But they beat up the servant and sent him away without anything. 11 So the owner sent another servant. The renters also beat him up. They insulted him terribly and sent him away without a thing. 12 The owner sent a third servant. He was also beaten terribly and thrown out of the vineyard.
13 The owner then said to himself, “What am I going to do? I know what. I’ll send my son, the one I love so much. They will surely respect him!”
14 When the renters saw the owner’s son, they said to one another, “Someday he will own the vineyard. Let’s kill him! Then we can have it all for ourselves.” 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Jesus asked, “What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? 16 I’ll tell you what. He will come and kill those renters and let someone else have his vineyard.”
When the people heard this, they said, “This must never happen!”
17 But Jesus looked straight at them and said, “Then what do the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone of all’? 18 Anyone who stumbles over this stone will get hurt, and anyone it falls on will be smashed to pieces.”
19 The chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses knew that Jesus was talking about them when he was telling this story. They wanted to arrest him right then, but they were afraid of the people.
When Fear Rules
What would have to be going through your head to beat up the messenger sent by the owner of the vineyard you rented when he came for the annual rent?
Do you think they had been poor tenants – had failed to tend the vineyard well?
Do you think the harvest was lower than expected and they couldn’t afford to pay?
Do you think they had simply taken the wine that they were supposed to make with the grapes and already gotten wasted on the harvest they owed?
Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure. For the renters in this story to act so maliciously and viciously they must have been afraid of something, whether their fear came out through greed or shame or arrogance or insolence. How can I be so certain? Because this story follows directly on the heels of Tuesday’s interaction with the Pharisees.
So once they’ve beaten up the first servant there’s this sense that they’ve started digging themselves into a hole.
The second servant comes and gets beaten up as well.
Then the third.
The owner hopes – almost against hope – that they will listen to his son, but anyone who was paying attention to the story by now knows that they’ve got too much invested in this now. The hole they’ve dug is far too deep to simply respond with the rent – the rent they presumably don’t even have in the first place.
So they kill the son.
They claim victory, but it is only a short-lived success. The owner comes in person, kills them and gives the vineyard to someone else.
And I don’t know how much the people listening understand what was being hidden in this story. I don’t know how much they understand that the servants were the prophets, that the Pharisees were the renters and that the son with Jesus. But the Pharisees understand.
And they hate it.
Their instant response is almost comical in it’s predictability. In their anger toward and fear of Jesus their immediate response is to want to kill Jesus … Just like he said.
See, the problem when we end up ruled by fear is that it’s hard to see an invitation – even one that’s offered in love.
The problem when we end up ruled by fear is that it pulls us deeper and deeper into a hole we dig for ourselves until it seems impossible for us to ever escape.
The problem when we end of ruled by fear is that fear cannot possibly take us anywhere but to a place that is more broken and more damaged and more isolated than where we are right now.
I don’t think that Jesus told this story as a scare tactic. I don’t think he told it to lord something over the Pharisees. I don’t think he told it to ‘get his own back’.
I think Jesus told this story because he knew that the reason that purity-culture rule-keepers would get so lost along their way was because they would end up in prisons of fear. (Ask the Pharisees … ask the Crusaders … ask the Inquisition … You might even find a few folks to ask today.)
And I think Jesus is offering one more chance for them – and for us – to make a different choice. One more chance to see where this is going to take them. One more chance to reconsider, to turn around, to offer their hand up to the one stooping over the edge of the pit and ask for some help getting up.
Apparently these guys weren’t willing to let go of the fear – but maybe it’s not too late for me and you?
- In what ways has fear broken you, damaged you or left you more isolated?
- When has fear shown up as greed, as shame, as arrogance, as insolence?
- Have you ever felt like you were stuck living in a prison of fear?
- Buried at the heart of this story is the line, “The owner then said to himself, ‘What am I going to do? I know what. I’ll send my son, the one I love so much. They will surely respect him!’”
- Are you willing to let go over whatever fear is holding you captive long enough to look fully into the face of Love?