They do not want to hear it.
It is the time of year for the workers of the land to share some of the grapes that the land has produced with the one who owns the land, the land owner. The workers of the land just do not want to hear it.
They do not want to hear that the land is not theirs. They do not want to hear that they must share what they have produced. They do not want to hear that they are beholden to anybody but themselves. They do not want to hear it. They live in denial of reality.
When the land owner sends people to confront the workers of the land, they sink even further into their denial and harm those representatives. With cold hearts they beat one to a pulp, they outright murder the next one, and expecting yet more representatives to come and collect what is owned, the workers of the land dig a hole, throw a third representative into the hole, take boulders, and pummel him to death. They do not want to hear it.
The land owner is gracious beyond comprehension at this point, because after these first three atrocities the land owner still does not hire thugs to remove them from the land.
Instead, he sends more people to diplomatically speak some sense into those workers, that they might share the produce of the land. Again, they do not want to hear it, and they do the same to these newcomers.
Certainly, they would turn from their ways and share the goodness of the land if the land owner sent this own son, his own flesh and blood, to speak to them and get them to turn from their ways?
Instead of seeing this as a gracious opportunity to have a last chance to make things right, their greed gets the better of them and they kill the son so that they might steal everything that is the son’s to inherit.
This has stepped beyond just not wanting to hear it. Now, they want to take over.
That was then.
That was the reaction of certain ancient people to God’s kingdom and the coming of Jesus. They ignored God and put Jesus to death.
Back then, they did not want to share what God had given.
Back then, they did not want to hear it when they were told that they were not tending God’s kingdom of love well.
Back then, they decided to turn to violence and bury the messenger so that they might continue to have all the power and do whatever they wanted to do with God’s gifts.
That was then. What about now?
How are we doing in tending and sharing the gifts of God in today's world?
How is the environment? Is it fit for a thousand more generations or is a quick buck the deciding factor i how we show our care?
How are we doing following Jesus' mandate to remember the poor? Do the poor share in the wealth of the land, or is it horded by those who have plenty?
How about love and forgiveness? Is it shared widely and showered upon even our enemies, or are we content to simply have forgiveness for ourselves?
How about support for God’s church? Does God’s ministry get the first fruits or does it get the leftovers…if anything at all?
How about violence? Do we hear criticism and change our ways, or do we respond by digging in our heels and killing the messenger through words or deeds whenever we are criticized and our old way of life is threatened?
In other words, are we willing to hear it? Are we willing to have a mirror placed in front of us so that we can stare at the ways we fall short of living out God’s kingdom of love and grace, or do we simply smash the mirror so that we do not have to change anything?
Did I catch you yet? Did one of my questions offend your sensibilities? Because I could go on and on if you like, and eventually I will strike gold. I am confident that, eventually, I will mention something that gets your heart racing and will compel you dig in your heals and fight back.
You know what we deserve? You know what ungrateful tenders of God’s kingdom deserve? They deserve to have their pride and their power smashed upon a huge stone. They deserve to have all the good gifts taken away. They deserve to have their temples torn down and their ways of life devastated. They deserve to have other, better tenders, take their place. That is what they deserve.
Maybe, that is what we deserve?
“It’s not like we don’t try,” we exclaim.
“No one can be perfect,” you we back.
The apostle Paul shouts with you in Romans 7:19:
“I want to do what is good, but I don't. I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”
As Paul admits, we may try and try to do it right. We may try to look in the mirror and change our ways, but somehow we always end up smashing it.
Who will save us?
Who will free us from this constant destruction?
Who will end the grief that is caused from our sin?
This parable of the bad tenants is not the end of the story. The end of the story of faith is not the complete destruction of the bad tenants, though they deserve it. The end of the story is God.
God is the beginning of the story, and the end of the story; the Alpha and the Omega.
Therefore, end of the story continues much like it did throughout the story.
In the story, the land owner was gracious in giving the land in the first place. The land owner continued this generosity by giving lots and lots and lots of warnings and second chances. The land owner even gave his only son. The end of the story is the cross where all of our mismanagement of God’s kingdom is put to death and forgiven. The end of the story is the resurrection and new life.
The end of the story is the possibility of yet a new story.
We do not save ourselves because we have somehow figured out how to make the world right. We have been at this project called the world for a long time, and we still have not gotten it figured out. Far from it.
We are not saved by our works and efforts.
Instead, we are saved from the destruction we create by the grace of God found in Jesus Christ. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast," from Ephesians 2:8-9.
We are saved because God loves us and wanted to save us, period.
This is a fundamental point of the gift of God that Lutherans are determined to share. We know that we cannot save ourselves. We know to our core that we are saved by God only because God wanted to save us. We did not earn a bit of this grace. We are saved by the forgiveness of the cross and the new life of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is all a gift. We do not deserve a bit of it.
That being said, it is precisely because we are convinced that we are loved and saved by God that we are free to simply be God's people. We do not feel like we have to earn a place in God's family. We know we are a part of God's family and we desire to live as one of God's family.
We are free to see hope where others see despair.
We are free to ask “what if?”
What if the land workers had realized just how generous the land owner was?
What if they had felt secure enough in that love…what if they had felt secure enough in God’s provision…that they would have felt free to share all that they had been given?
What if they felt so loved that loving others was not ever an afterthought?
What if forgiveness becomes our second nature because forgiveness is second nature to the one who created us?
What if the world truly knew that it was saved by God’s grace…by God’s love?
What if we reminded ourselves of that fact every morning while we wash our faces; reminding ourselves of our baptisms and reminding ourselves of the blessings that God has provided.
What if we realized that we are the people of God?
Because, you are.
Your are God’s people, who have been loved and saved. You are the tenders of the gifts of God. You are the tenders of God's kingdom.