SUNDAY SERMON: Our Cornerstone

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

NT: Matthew 21.33-46

Today’s lesson is more like Bible Study than a sermon, because there is so much going on in our passage.

The parable of the wicked tenants is a difficult one to understand all by itself. Putting it in the larger context of the book of Matthew helps it make more sense. 

Jesus is in conflict with the powers that be. And I know we have all kinds of ideas what kind of conflicts existed between Jesus and people in power, so let’s be very clear. Jesus’ main gripes were with the religious powers. The temple leaders. The Pharisees, whom Ron preached about last week. 

He was upset with the religious leaders…because he didn’t think they were all that religious after all. What he was often upset with them about was their treatment of the least, the last, and the lost. The poor. The widows. The orphans. The sick. He thought they allowed the Roman political powers to exploit those people, in order to keep their positions of religious power. 

Oftentimes, when he was trying to make these points to the religious leaders in their discussions, he would tell a parable. If they didn’t get it, he would tell a second parable. Trying to make the same point in a new way. 

That’s exactly what’s happening here. He’s in a heated discussion with the religious leaders. He’s just finished busting into the temple in Jerusalem and overturned the tables of the money-changers. They are livid with him. 

So the religious leaders say, “Who do you think you are, and who gave you the authority to do this?”

Jesus tells them a parable. The parable of the two sons we read last week. They don’t get it. So he tells them a second parable. The one we just read today. The parable of the wicked tenants. 

It describes a situation that would’ve been well-known to everyone. Wealthy landowner builds a vineyard complete with a fence, a winepress, even a watchtower. It was business as usual. 

He leaves it in the hands of workers and goes back to his second home on the coast for the summer. The vineyard produces a profit. The tenants pass it along to the owner. They keep busy with their jobs. He keeps making money. It’s all business as usual. 

Until one day the owner’s people come to get their share, and the tenants not only refuse….they attack them, even beating and killing one person. 

The owner sends more workers to retrieve his rent. The tenants treat this group even worse than the last. 

So what should the owner do? Call the police? Send in his own private army? That would have made sense in the story and to the Pharisees who were hearing this parable. But instead, the landowner sends his own son, trusting the tenants who’ve been given responsibility as stewards over the land to treat his son well, turn from their evil ways, and come back to their senses. If only that were the case. 

But they kill his only son. And Jesus asks the religious leaders, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

They say, “He will put those miserable bums to death, find new tenants, and get back to business.” Because that’s what they would have done. They see themselves as the landowner, in charge of other people. 

Jesus says–to the people who are in charge of the church, “Have you never read the scriptures? The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

In other words, Jesus is the only son sent by the landowner, and the religious leaders are the wicked tenants who kill him for a measly vineyard. 

This all began with those same religious leaders asking Jesus, “Who do you think are you? By what authority are you here teaching us and our people?”

And the parable is Jesus’ answer. He is the only son of God, sent to save the wicked people from themselves, even if they are too stubborn to realize it. 

The kids finally got it. They realized that in this parable they were the wicked tenants, ready to kill the only son of the vineyard owner, and they were beside themselves with rage. 

This is a cautionary tale. While we are not the Pharisees. While we are not the Sadducees. We are, like those in this parable, the people entrusted by God with caring for the world around us. Sometimes we lose sight of that. Sometimes we come to feel entitled to the things we think belong to us. Our church. Our job. Our reputation. Our projects. Our things. And we cling so tightly to them that we become our own cornerstone. 

This passage reminds us that the only cornerstone is Jesus. Our job is to lean on him. Be part of his kingdom. Build our lives around him.

Our cornerstone orders our entire lives. Our morals. Our schedules. Our relationships. Our priorities. When our cornerstone is off by just an ⅛ of an inch, the whole thing is compromised. Just look at what happened to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. 

But when we’re aligned with the cornerstone, it all falls right into place. Our morals. Our schedules. Our relationships. Our priorities.

Who does he think he is? Our cornerstone. And thanks be to God for it. Amen.

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