A Question of Ownership - Matthew 21:33–46
We live in a material world. The consumer mentality, combined with self-absorbed individualism, drives our economic, political and cultural narrative. The days of fixing something has gone, replaced by a disposable mindset that tosses away the old in favour of the new. Even if the old it still works, it become redundant when new versions enter the market. We cling to these things with a fervour akin to religious fanaticism. We reject politicians, and others, who contemplate taking this us. We claim it is our right to own whatever we our hearts desire.
More and more, churches have developed similar mindsets. This is our church, we want things done our way, and heaven forbid any person suggesting otherwise. We see it in church leaders, who invest their life into “their church”, and find their world shattered when suddenly they lose it. Many who have occupied pews space all their life have the same emotional investment. You can’t change the colour of the carpet, slightly readjust the seating, use any instrument other than an organ, not run a Sunday school program, or suggest an openness to new people, because this is “my church”.
It would seem not much has changed since the time of Jesus. After the tumultuous entrance into the temple, the religious leaders question Jesus authority to act in such a manner. In refusing to answer them, he tells them the parable of the wicked tenants. These tenants believed the vineyard was “theirs”. They set it up the way they desired, and believed the fruit was for their use not the owner’s. They dispose of every servant seeking the master’s payment, and strangely believe if they kill the son they will gain the inheritance. So Jesus asks what the owner should do. In responding with condemnation of the tenants, they cast judgement upon themselves. For the cornerstone they reject will either expose or crush sinful action. Exposing it offers redemption, crushing it is condemnation.
The religious leaders had develop ownership over the people of God. Their rules, regulations, rituals and traditions, were all designed to sustain that ownership. When Jesus questioned it, demonstrating by his own actions the ungodly intent behind it, their desire is to kill him. But they lack courage to do this, fearing the crowds whom they manipulate into subservience to their version of being “god’s people”. What they failed to see was that their very actions, which would lead to Jesus crucifixion, was the very event that would both redeem the lost and condemned the self-righteous.
The church doesn’t belong to me or you, or anyone occupying a pew for any number of years. We are always participants in the Father’s vineyard, producing the fruit of service that he intends for those who do not know him. Any church that fails to act in this way, demanding it is about their desires, are as bad as the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. The way they act becomes their own condemnation. And just as the Father took away from the self-righteous religious leaders their place in the vineyard, so he will do to any church that doesn’t bear fruit for His purposes.
We have a great challenge before us. How do we faithfully nurture the vineyard so all who experience it through us see the Fathers ownership, and the Son’s unconditional grace and love? We can’t afford to be lukewarm, and have the Lord spew us out of his mouth. We can’t afford complacency or apathy, “doing the Christian thing’ when we feel up to it. The more we fix our eyes on Jesus, the greater our capacity to produce God’s fruit, and the greater the chance others have to know the depth of the Father’s love for them.