Boundaries help to keep us in a safe or acceptable place. Boundaries show us where the limits are and boundaries serve warnings of where not to go.
We all know that there are boundaries in life that if we crossed, would lead to consequences, not just for ourselves but for others. And sometimes the consequences can be terrible or life threatening. Boundaries can often be the reigns pulling us back from something we know we really shouldn’t be doing, even though we want to do it.
Nearly all of the time, when we cross a boundary, we are taking something that does not belong to us. For example, we know that if we steal we are taking something which did not belong to us. When we break a state or federal law, we are taking something, or doing something that does not belong to us.
Crossing such boundaries, taking what does not belong to us, causes conflict.
We know this.
Which is why the parable in Matt 21:33-43 is so striking and powerful. Here we have tenants, who have leased a vineyard.
Now the parable tells us something about the owner. He had done ALL the work for the tenants. He planted the vineyard, so all the tenants have to do is to ‘tend’ and cultivate it. He has given them protection by building the wall around it, and has provided a watchtower for them, to see danger coming. He has given them the means of harvesting the crop with a winepress. All is provided. All they need is there for them. It’s fully furnished. The tenants lacked nothing.
And even the rent is reasonable – the owner is to simply have a portion of the harvest. That’s all. The tenants keep everything else for themselves.
And so when the owner’s servants come in the owners authority to collect the rent, to collect the portion, the tenants cross a boundary.
They decide to take what is not theirs and keep it for themselves.
They want to keep everything, including the vineyard for themselves and they are prepared to take it by force.
So they abuse and kill the servants. The owner sends more servants and they also are attacked and killed. And so he decided to send his son. His only son.
Now by this point the listeners are probably stunned and shocked. Surely this landowner, whose rights have been rudely and violently trampled on, would not give these criminals – which is what they now are – another chance? And surely he would never send his son to such people – his only son. That would be irresponsible.
Of course Jesus is telling a parable – he using the shocking imagery of the story to teach the listeners something.
The first, and most obvious, thing Jesus is teaching relates to the religious leaders, who are the ones listening to this parable.
The context of this start in Matt 21:23, when Jesus enters the Temple and the chief priests and elders ask him a question. They say ‘By what authority are you doing these things.” Who gave you this authority? Jesus in response asks a question – where did John the Baptists authority come from – man or God. The chief priests and elders knew the significance of the question and so they do not answer and Jesus says he too will not answer their question. But he does give two parables. We read the first last week – the two sons, who says I will go work in the field and does not; and the other son says no, but does go.
Then he gives this parable of the vineyard owner. Jesus’ point to the religious leaders is that they have crossed a boundary.
They have started to consider what is God’s to be there’s. They ran the temple and regarded it as their domain. They decided who was in with God and who was not. They judged what was holy and what was not. They had rejected the prophets, including John the Baptist (the servant sent by the owner) and now they are rejecting the Son sent by the father.
They had taken authority and a position that was never theirs to take. Everything belonged to God – Israel belonged to God – the temple was God’s – the religious ceremonies was God’s – the sacrifices was God’s – the temple offerings was God’s. It all belongs to God. And the religious leaders claimed these things for themselves. And they had rejected the true and real authority that was sent by God himself.
The second meaning of the parable is this: it contrasts the destructiveness of sin, which is utterly unreasonable, alongside God’s love, which is utterly incomprehensible.
We would have dealt with the Tenant’s when the first servants were attacked. We would not have shown mercy but we would have exercised the fullest retribution at our disposal. Not so with God. He did not wipe humanity off the face of the earth when they sinned. He did not wipe Israel off the map when they rebelled.
God’s love is utterly incomprehensible.
Now, while I am sure no one has done what these tenants did, I would suggest that we have at times crossed a similar boundary.
We know as Christians that the Lord owns everything. A cattle on a thousand hills is his (Ps 50:10); the nations are his – everything is his. Deut 10 says The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the LORD your God, as does the earth and everything in it.
Everything is his.
That includes you and I. Psalm 24 The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD;
And Romans 14 says If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
(to be continued tomorrow)