Faith In Real Life Blog

“God Does not Give Up on Us”

Sharing Christ’s Love Worship Series

Rev. Vernon Gramling

Decatur Presbyterian Church

October 4, 2023

Matthew 21:33-46

33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41 They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.


​This week is particularly hectic.  Unfortunately, I expect more so I’m sending out my ‘take aways’ in a list fashion—at least till I get through my surgery and we get thru our move.

​This passage is the third of three responses to the chief priests’ and scribes’ question: “By what authority do you speak?” Jesus’s first answer was a question designed to point out that congruence between action and words is the basis of authority.  The second was the parable of the two sons in which, once again, the theme was ‘actions speak louder than words’ – a yes that does not include action is really a no.  And finally, we discover much the same theme in this parable.

​The land owner invests heavily into the vineyard.  He plants, provides a wine press, a fence and a watch tower.  This is a very well-appointed vineyard.  The land owner then passes stewardship of these resources to the tenants.  We rapidly discover that the tenants have forgotten that, though they have worked the land, they did not own the land.  When the land owner seeks his share of the harvest, they are rebellious.  They beat, stone and kill the landowner’s emissaries.  They do the same to a second, larger group. Then, quite peculiarly, the land owner sends his son with the hope that the tenants will show respect and finally do the right thing.  This too fails.  The son is killed in the false hope that now the tenants can gain the son’s inheritance.  

Takeaways from the story so far:

1. It is easy to forget that all that we have is a gift—no matter how hard we work.  
2. As soon as we forget, entitlement begins to rule—and with it, self-righteous justifications for exploitation and violence.
3. Though we may hate to admit it, we often treat the earth and the many ways our lives have been made possible for us, as ours and our ‘right’.  We are stewards not owners.  These attitudes are toxic.  
4. The story traditionally is used as a ‘salvation history’ lesson.  God gives us the earth and expects us to be good stewards.  We fail. God sends multiple messengers (prophets) to remind us of God’s graciousness and to call us to ‘do the right thing.’  The prophets are ignored and mistreated.  God sends his son and the same thing happens.

Jesus now asks a key question to the chief priests and scribes: “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”   They respond with the words:  ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

New take aways.

1. The answer the chief priests and scribes offer is perfectly legal and is quite reasonable.  It is only right that these ungrateful tenants be punished, killed and replaced. BUT their answer reveals their secular values rather than a spiritual understanding.  
2. By secular standards it is absolutely foolish to keep sending emissaries to show people (us) the way to right relationship.  And even crazier to send your son and heir.  But in the story of the kingdom, the land owner does not punish.  The landowner keeps sending help to a very ungrateful people.  
3. The chief priests and scribes miss the essence and substance of God and their answer reveals their blindness.  They do not realize what they have been given any more than the tenants.
4. While we celebrate and crave grace, such a kingdom is very discomfiting.  We are all vulnerable to taking the gift of life for granted.  We are all vulnerable to the idea that we deserve what we have rather than being good stewards of what we have been given. In God’s kingdom we do not get what we deserve (the punishment the chief priests would deal out) we get a relentless God who keeps coming.  No matter how often we ignore or abuse God’s gifts, God keeps reaching out to show us the way.  That is contrary to every sense of human ‘fairness’.  
5. When we or the chief priests seek to pronounce judgment, we stumble on the stone the builder rejected. We reject the foundational principle of our faith—that Jesus came to reconcile himself to the world—NOT to condemn the world. Our faith claim is that judgment begets judgment and dooms us.  Grace begets grace and saves us. 
6. The parable describes the real world.  If you are going to try to live a life of love and reconciliation, you can be sure you will run into rejection. Don’t be surprised.  Our resurrection hope is that such rejection is not the end.  Our resurrection hope is that Love matters and Love will prevail.  But don’t think for a minute we will be spared hardship and suffering.  Love anyway.  

One last note.  I have felt and I have noticed a certain amount of Matthew 25 fatigue.  I believe this happens because the promises of the Gospel become oughts and worse, these oughts expose us as woefully unable to respond.  It is hard to live in a world where our best efforts often fail.  But, as I read this parable, it is a predicament that God is quite familiar with.  And amazingly, God keeps reaching out.  

If you can come to know such a God, you will be transformed.   Let it be so.


Vernon Gramling is a Parrish Associate at DPC. He has been providing pastoral care and counseling for over 45 years. You can find more about Vernon, the Faith in Real Life (FIRL) gatherings and Blog at our staff page or FIRL.