The parables of Jesus (Part 3)
Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 24 November 2019
Reading was Luke 20:9-18
Today we’ve heard a parable by Jesus, which we are going to explore a little bit this morning – but before we do it probably handy to understand what parables are and the background to the one we’ve just heard. Jesus used parables, which are figurative forms of speech, to teach, criticise and even attack, those who thought they understood God and what it meant to follow God.
Today’s parable is known as the Parable of the wicked tenants, although some people like to call it the Parable of the Noble Vineyard Owner and His Son. Here is a modern painting by James B. Janknegt called The Wicked Tenants.
His first place to go is the temple, the place of worship – what he finds disturbs him so much that he and those who follow him block the main thoroughfare – it seems as though people had been using this as a way for quick business rather than worship.
He overturns the tables of those who changed money. He knocked over the chairs of those who sold doves for sacrifice – driving out both sellers and buyers. He even shut down the afternoon sacrifice.
In response to these actions, “the Chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him” (Luke 19:47) but were frustrated in so doing because “the people hung upon his words” (v48).
In their frustration they came up with this question:
By what authority do you do these things?
If he gets the answer wrong, the people’s opinion will turn and then the leaders can get on with their murderous plan to have Jesus arrested and killed. Jesus responds by telling this parable.
Once there was a very wealthy business man, who own a number of pieces of property in Wellington. His favourite property, was the family home on Oriental Bay Parade. As time went on, the business, which had begun in Wellington, had outgrown its premises, so the business man decided it was time to move to another site, a larger site in Auckland. By the end of the year the man and his family had moved to live in Howick.
Rather than sell the property on Oriental Bay, the man decided to rent it. For a number of years rent was paid on time, however the man had lately noticed a few discrepancies – either the rent came late or was not enough.
Rather than hire a property manager, whom he had had issues with in the past, he decided to send one of his own employees – Elijah – to visit the property and talk with the tenants to see if everything was ok – if they were struggling financially he was sure they could work something out.
After a few days, the business man found himself recovering from shock as he heard from Elijah, who was covered in bruises, what the tenants had done to him.
“Not only did they refuse to pay the rent”, Elijah said “they pushed me down the stairs, pulled me outside, and then told me get lost.”
Knowing what Elijah was like, (a bit hot-headed) the business man thought there must have been a misunderstanding – he was willing to give the tenants the benefit of the doubt, so decided he would ask Mo, another employee, to go and ask the tenants for the rent and to be tactful about it.
It was during the staff meeting a few days later that the business man received a phone call from Mo – Mo it seemed had spent the last few days in hospital recovering from a concussion, bruised ribs and broken teeth. He had been found lying unconscious in Victoria Park and taken directly to the emergency department – the police wanted to know what had happened but before Mo said anything else he wanted to check what his employer wanted to do.
Mo was not surprised when his boss told him that he would cover all expenses but would prefer that Mo not press charges – he would like to deal with the situation his way.
Third time lucky – the business man decided to send his HR manager, John, to try and negotiate with the tenants – if they weren’t willing to listen this time, he would call the police. John was good with people and knew how to get them to listen to him. The following day he flew down to Wellington.
Knowing of the proposed changes to the Residential Tenancy Act that would remove the ability for landlords to end a periodic tenancy agreement with no cause – John had arranged to take the tenants out for a meal with the hope to gather evidence of just cause so he could get them thrown out of his bosses home.
A few days later… The business man knew John liked to take his time, however he hadn’t heard from him for almost a week – even for John a week without any communication was unusual. What had happened? Becoming more and more concerned with the whereabouts of John, the man’s son suggested that he go down to Wellington to find John and to see how things were going with the tenants.
Although he had misgivings about his son visiting the tenants, he thought that this could be the thing that finally makes them see sense. Being in the presence of his son would surely make them remember that the house they lived in was his, they would apologise and also pay the rent.
Almost as soon as the business man had heard from his son who had arrived safely in Wellington, his phone rang again – it was John’s wife letting him know the horrifying news that John had been found lying in a pool of blood – he had survived a knife attack and left for dead in a small park. It would take him months to recover.
Immediately he thought of his son – there was no coincidence that these violent acts had taken place when he had tried to engage with the tenants, and now his beloved, precious son, was walking into a place of murderous intent. From that moment on time moved slowly, like walking in mud.
He called his son – no answer.
He booked a ticket to Wellington – the earliest was later that evening.
The flight seemed to take forever.
The taxi seemed to take the scenic route.
He called his son – no answer.
As the taxi came around the corner of Oriental Bay, he noticed part of the road had been cordoned off – three police cars and an ambulance sat motionless around his home’s driveway.
Opening the door while the taxi still moved, the taxi driver slamming the brakes, he leapt out of the car and started running, heart beating, thoughts rushing – “Oh No, Oh No”.
Almost crashing into the police officer near the front door, he was grabbed and held, as three men, men he recognised as the tenants were brought down the steps in handcuffs – with sly unrepentant eyes they each turned their head towards him, the last one simply saying:
We killed him, you pompous, self-important bastard, he’s lying in the back garden, bleeding out, if you want to see him!
Falling to his knees, with tears flowing freely down his face, he cried out to the passing men,
I allowed you to stay in my home, I wanted to work things out with you, and you treated me, my son, my employees, and this special place as nothing more than a lair for your own selfish desires – I will see you get the full weight of the law thrown at you – if it was up to me I would see you hang!
By the time the story was over, the leaders knew Jesus was talking about them – they were like the tenants. In their distorted understanding of leadership they had become people willing to even commit murder so they could keep their position and their place.
God had done everything to remind them of their leadership roles – to lead and teach the people of God – even by risking His beloved son, whom at that very moment they were trying to get rid of – because of their unwillingness to listen or to change, they would eventually suffer the consequences.
What might Jesus be saying to us in this story today? Do we know how much God desires us to know him? Do we realise what God has done to reach us – that God in and through his son stepped into our world became flesh so we could know God? Do we take what God has given us and use it in the wrong way?
Whatever God might be saying are you, are we willing to listen and change if we need to or will we continue to go our own way?