Lent 5 • Luke 20:9–20 • March 13, 2016
Editor’s note: The following homiletical help is adapted from Concordia Journal, January 1980.
By William J. Schmelder
The preacher needs to resist mightily the temptation to use this text as the occasion for letting the congregation have it. It would be easy to become a stern preacher of the law, and to use this text to proclaim only God’s wrath and punishment. Indeed, such is the lot of those who reject the stone, Jesus Christ, whom God puts forward. The scribes and the chief priests recognized that thrust of Jesus’s words to be directed against them. The people in the parish, however, ought not to be assumed to be their present-day counterparts. Although the parable contains the strong note of judgment on those who spurn God’s action, there is also the note of triumph in the elevation of the rejected stone. The hearers ought to be deepened in their grasp of God’s persistent love in the ministry of Jesus.
The Scripture appointed for the day directs the hearers to focus on God’s action on their behalf. Psalm 28:1–3, 7–11 exults, “The Lord is my strength and my shield, in him my heart trusts,” and “The Lord is the strength of his people.” Isaiah 43:16–21 announces that the Lord who is Creator of all is doing a new thing so that his people might declare his praise. In Philippians 3:8–14 St. Paul counts all as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.
The parable seems to be based on the practice of absentee landlords who owned rather large tracts of land in Galilee. The land was worked by tenant farmers who were periodically visited by the agents of the owner to collect his share of the crops.
The problem of the killing of the son has puzzled many. What would the tenants have gained by killing him except the wrath of the owner? The solution seems to be something like this: when the tenants see the son, they assume that the owner is dead; the heir is coming to claim his inheritance; by killing him the land would become ownerless; the tenants could claim squatters’ rights and press for ownership.
The destructive power of the stone is illuminated by the Talmudic proverb, “Should the stone fall on the jar, woe to the jar! Should the jar fall on the stone, woe to the jar! In either case, woe to the jar!” (Esther Rabbah, 7:10).
During Lent we are brought face-to face with God’s persistent love of the world in the gift of his Son. The story of God’s love affair with the human race is punctuated with man’s rejection and spurning of God’s love. When God sent his Son, he, too, was rejected. In love, God gave him up for us all. In him God’s persistent love triumphed. For his sake, God continues to pursue us with his love in word and sacrament.
This same persistent love which has triumphed in us to make us the people of God by faith in Christ Jesus becomes the power and the motivation for lives which produce the fruit of the vineyard.