Here is my meditation for our Holy Tuesday Service of Evening Prayer. It starts in an hour, so if you'd like to hear this sermon instead of read it, c'mon out!
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is a terrible story filled with greed, envy, violence, and death. The worst part of the story, however, is the stupidity of the land owner. He sends a slave to collect his share of the produce, but the tenant-farmers beat him and send him home empty handed. So, the landowner sends another slave. This one they didn't just beat up, but they hurled insults at him while they beat him up, and he too returned home empty handed. So, the landowner sends a third slave to pick up what is rightfully his, but this slave never comes home. The tenant-farmers don't just beat him up, they don't just dishonor him, but they kill this slave.
Most of us would have learned our lesson at this point. No more slaves, these people are too violent, too greedy, I'll just cut my loses and focus on my other properties. But that isn't the story that Jesus tells. Instead, Jesus says that the landowner kept sending slaves, over and over and over again. “And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed.” Many others. Many? How stupid can this land owner be that we would continue to send slave upon slave to seek out what he should have known he would never receive. He does this over and over and over again until there is but one man left.
The one. His beloved son. I'm not sure where this parable of Jesus goes from sad to tragic, but if it hasn't already, it is certainly tragic once the landowner decides to send his beloved son. It is tragic because we know what is going to happen. If the tenant-farmers killed his slaves, certainly they will kill his son. So why on earth would the landowner send him off to certain death? How could he be so dumb?
This is not an academic, head in the clouds kind of question, either. I hear this question a lot, often from young folk. “Why did Jesus have to die?” Part of what they are asking, I think, is “why couldn't the God of all creation come up with a better way to fix it all? Didn't he see the writing on the wall? Didn't he know that we are greedy, ugly people and that his son would get a three punishments inflicted on the slaves? He'd be beaten. He'd be insulted. He'd be killed. How could God be so stupid as to send his beloved Son?”
It is safe to assume, I think, that since we humans are part of the problem, we will never fully understand the solution, but it is equally safe to assume that God isn't dumb. What the story of the wicked tenants tells us, in all of its ugliness and tragedy, is that God is doggedly faithful, longing from generation to generation for his people to return to him. Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel call this quality of God “long-suffering.” I prefer to call it mercy. Something that Psalm 118 tells us endures for ever.
God never gives up on us. Even to the point of sending his beloved son to certain death at the hands of the very greedy, violent people he is trying so hard to save. Tonight, as we take another step closer to Good Friday, I invite you to remember God's unending mercy and faithfulness, and be thankful. Amen.