Text: Luke 20:9-20 X Judica (5TH Sunday in Lent)
Broken on the Rock or Crushed under It
In the name of him who has made us his own, dear friends in Christ: Have you ever noticed that our Lord Jesus in his dealings with people throughout his earthly ministry never leaves them with a lot of options? Think of the way he called his various disciples. He finds them where they’re working at their jobs, maybe repairing a fishing net or like Matthew, sitting in his tax collector’s booth. Up walks Jesus one day and says, “Hey you. Yes, you. Stop what you’re doing. Come, follow me.” There’s no “come if you want to” or “come when you think you’re ready”; no “let me talk to you about the bright future that could be yours in a career in the ministry”; nothing like that. It’s just “Do what I tell you and do it now.” You get the impression that he’s not taking “no” for an answer. The one disciple who tried, Peter, who fell at Jesus’ feet claiming to be unqualified saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”, was told to get up, stop the backtalk, and get to work – or words to that effect, anyway. Jesus didn’t leave a lot of room for him to make choices.
And so far I’ve been talking about
people who were generally friendly to Jesus.
He treated his enemies in pretty much the same way. There’s Saul of Tarsus, for example, who was
just beginning to become famous as a great defender of Judaism and the foremost
persecutor of the upstart cult of the Nazarene.
Jesus meets him while he’s hunting down Christians who are fleeing for
their lives, knocks him flat in the dirt, blinds him so that he can’t see, and
says, “You’re really beginning to irritate me, Saul. Let’s see if we can’t channel all that energy
and enthusiasm you’ve got to accomplish something more positive for the
And that’s what we see too in this
morning’s Gospel lesson. The incident
takes place in the
Well, it’s coming on to the season of Passover now. The city of
And nowhere is the mounting tension any higher than among
the enemies of Jesus where they gather in their chambers to figure out how to
deal with this troublesome prophet from
No such luck. Those
who were hoping for a quiet resolution to the Jesus crisis were sadly
disappointed on Palm Sunday. Not only
did Jesus come to town, he did it with all the fanfare of a conquering hero. The people turned out into the streets in
droves to declare him to be the Son of David – the promised King. They cried out to him, “Hosanna!” which is a
prayer for rescue from oppression. When
the authorities tried to get Jesus to calm the crowd and disavow the titles they
were heaping on him, he said he couldn’t do that – and even if he did and the
people stopped shouting, the very stones of the city would begin to cry out in
praise to him. And if that were not
provoking enough to them, Jesus then marched to the
That happened two days before the action in this morning’s
text. Now Jesus has returned to the
But instead of responding directly to their question, Jesus
says, “I tell you what, fellas; I’ll answer your
question as soon as you answer one of mine.
Tell me, John the Baptist, where did he get the authority to do the
things he did?” Now
the shoe is on the other foot.
John too was not sanctioned by the religious authorities – in fact, he
was an outspoken critic of the whole
It’s at this point, turning back to the people gathered around him – while his frustrated opponents are still standing there seething with rage at being outwitted again – that Jesus tells the parable of the rebellious tenants. The story is straightforward. A man lets his vineyard to some tenants. It’s their job to take care of the vines and harvest the fruit. All they have to do is give the owner his share of the proceeds when the time comes. This they refuse to do. Every time the landlord sends his men to collect the rent, the evil tenants beat them up and send them away empty-handed. At last the landlord (who seems to be suffering from a hopelessly foolish case of optimism) decides to send his beloved son. “They’ll respect him” he tells himself. Instead they see an opportunity: “If we kill the heir, when the old man dies we’ll get to keep the vineyard for ourselves.” So that’s what they do. When the son comes, they drag him out of the vineyard and murder him. And then Jesus lays it down: “What do you suppose that landlord will do next? He will come and destroy those wretches and turn his vineyard over to others.”
It happens that many of the parables
of Jesus require some explanation to be properly understood. This is not one of them. There is no question about what Jesus
means. The vineyard is a common Old
Testament metaphor for the country of
And I think it may be hard for us to understand just how shocking a statement that would have been to the people listening to Jesus. These were zealous Jews, remember: people immensely proud of their heritage and their special status as God’s chosen people. What Jesus is telling them is that they’re about to be judged and that their land and their special status are going to be revoked and given to others—to Gentiles; and that’s a thought so horrible and so foreign to their self understanding that they cry out with what is the strongest negative statement in the Greek language, “No way. Surely not. God would never do that.”
“You don’t think so?” asks Jesus, “Then what’s this that’s written in the Psalm: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner’?” Though he has changed the metaphor, there’s still no question about what he means. He’s saying that it’s even prophesied in Scripture that he will be rejected by the religious leaders and that he will still nevertheless become the cornerstone of something new – a marvelous new Temple for the Lord (which we know is his Church). And then he takes it one step further by giving them the two options available to them: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but those on whom it falls will be crushed to powder.”
I began this message by saying that Jesus didn’t leave people with many choices. And here they are: you either fall on Jesus, a broken and contrite sinner trusting in him and his mercy, or the judgment of Jesus will fall on you and destroy you completely. There are no other options. This was true for the people in Jesus’ day: people like Peter, and Matthew, and Saul, all of whom had their pride and self esteem completely obliterated and who were brought to tears of repentance at Jesus’ feet; and also people like the Pharisees, scribes, and religious leaders who had no use for Jesus and condemned him to death. They lost their place and their nation – and those who stuck to their resistance to God’s Holy Spirit calling them to repentance and faith in Jesus ultimately lost their lives in hell.
The same is true of people today. When encountering Jesus there are only two options: either be broken on him or be crushed under him. There’s no middle ground. And this, I think, is what we sometimes lose track of in the church. Especially today when so many popular images of Jesus distort his true image. He’s portrayed as a mild mannered peacenik who leads protests against wars, or a rabid environmentalist who wants to save whales and prevent global warming. In some circles he’s the champion of personal freedom who proclaims the gospel of tolerance: judge not lest ye be judged. How dare you call what someone else does a sin. In other places he’s the advocate of the poor and oppressed whose mission it is to guilt rich Americans into giving more to help stop world hunger. And in still others on what’s perhaps the opposite end of the theological spectrum he’s either the easily offended friend who looks forward to hearing people tell him how much they love and honor him, and who feels bad when they don’t, or he’s the Lord and Master who demands 100% submission and perfect obedience.
But he is none of these things. As he says himself, he is either the Rock on which we must fall and be broken in repentance, or he is the Judge who will condemn us. I mentioned before the service that this Sunday is called “Judica”. It’s from the traditional introit for the day and the sense of it is that we are standing before God saying to him, “Judge me, O Lord, and declare me righteous.” That’s an audacious claim; but here’s the point: that’s what we all must say in God’s presence at all times. There’s no other way to stand before God for no one unholy or sinful can be there. Now, those who are being broken on Christ, who are continuously confessing their sins and their need for his cross and passion are standing on the Rock. They are righteous in the sight of God and he will judge them so. But those who attempt to stand before God in any other way will be crushed and swept away.
Christ our Lord leaves us only two options. By his grace and the power of his Spirit may he give us to fall on him every day in heartfelt repentance that we may also stand on him and the righteousness he died to achieve for us now and forever. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!