The Gospel of Luke:a commentary & meditation

"The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner"

Scripture: Luke 20:1-18

1 One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, "Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority." 3 He answered them, "I also will ask you a question; now tell me, 4 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?" 5 And they discussed it with one another, saying, "If we say, `From heaven,' he will say, `Why did you not believe him?' 6 But if we say, `From men,' all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet." 7 So they answered that they did not know whence it was. 8 And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things." 9 And he began to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant; him also they beat and treated shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third; this one they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, `What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will respect him.'  14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.' 15 And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others." When they heard this, they said, "God forbid!"  17 But he looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written: `The very stone which the builders rejected  has become the head of the corner'? 18  Every one who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one it will crush him."

Meditation: Do you accept the authority of God’s word and submit to it with trust and obedience? Many religious leaders took offense at Jesus because they could not accept his authority. After Jesus had dramatically cleansed the temple of the traders and money-changers the Jewish leaders question Jesus to trap him.  If he says his authority is divine they will charge him with blasphemy.  If he has done this on his own authority they might well arrest him as a mad zealot before he could do more damage.  Jesus, seeing through their trap, poses a question to them and makes their answer a condition for his answer.  Did they accept the work of John the Baptist as divine or human?  If they accepted John’s work as divine, they would be compelled to accept Jesus as the Messiah.  They dodged the question because they were unwilling to face the truth.  They did not accept the Baptist and they would not accept Jesus as their Messiah.  Jesus told his disciples that “the truth will make you free” (John 8:31).  Do you know the joy and freedom of Christ’s rule in your life?

What does Jesus' parable about an absentee landlord and his tenants say to us today? The hills of Galilee were lined with numerous vineyards, and it was quite common for the owners to let out their estates to tenants. Many did it for the sole purpose of collecting rent at the right time. Why did Jesus' story about wicked tenants cause offense to the scribes and Pharisees?  It contained both a prophetic message and a warning.  Isaiah had spoken of the house of Israel as "the vineyard of the Lord" (Isaiah 5:7).  Jesus' listeners would likely understand this parable as referring to God's dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people. This parable speaks to us today as well.  It richly conveys some important truths about God and the way he deals with his people.  First, it tells us of God's generosity and trust.  The vineyard is well equipped with everything the tenants need.  The owner went away and left the vineyard in the hands of the tenants.  God, likewise trusts us enough to give us freedom to run life as we choose.  This parable also tells us of God's patience and justice.  Not once, but many times he forgives the tenants their debts.  But while the tenants take advantage of the owner's patience, his judgment and justice prevail in the end.

Why does Jeus end his parable with a quote from Psalm 118 about the stone which the builders rejected?  This is a prophetic psalm describing how God saves the Messianic King of Israel from his foes.  The early church used it as a description of Jesus' death and resurrection (see Acts 4:11 and 2 Peter 2:7). Jesus used this psalm to support his upcoming rejection by the Sanhedrin (the highest council of religious leaders).  Jesus links this foreshadowing of his own death with his first prediction of his passion and ultimate triumph (Luke 9:22).  Jesus knew he would be rejected and be killed, but he also knew that would not be the end.  After rejection would come glory -- the glory of his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. What is extraordinary about this rejection of the Son sent by the Father in Heaven?  Jesus' rejection and crucifixion is the means by which he becomes the "cornerstone" of God's temple.  We are built into that temple as living stones in Christ (1 Peter 2:5). It is through the brokenness of repentance and death to sin that we rise to new life in Christ. The Lord blesses his people today with the gift of his kingdom and the hope of the resurrection.  And he promises that we will bear much fruit if we abide in him (see John 15:1-11).  He entrusts his gifts and grace to each of us and he gives us work to do in his vineyard -- the body of Christ.  He promises that our labor will not be in vain if we persevere with faith to the end (see 1 Cor. 15:58). We can expect trials and even persecution.  But in the end we will see triumph.  Do you labor for the Lord with joyful hope and with confidence in his victory?

"Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us; for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.  O most merciful redeemer, friend, and brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, for you own sake." (prayer of St. Richard of Chichester, 13th century)

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 (c) 1999, 2000 Don Schwager