Let me ask you a question. How do you want to be remembered? Long after you’re gone, who will remember you, and how will you be remembered? I want to share with you today what I think is a sure-fire way to be remembered well.
But first, let’s take another quick look at our reading from Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew 21. This is a parable that Jesus is telling – a story to try to get through to the Chief Priests, the Scribes, and the Pharisees of just what it is that God expects from them.
And of course, you know that Jesus was always butting heads with them. It seems like they were either challenging him – or trying to trap him in his own words. The bottom line is that they wanted nothing to do with him or his teachings. They, of course, are the ones who are ultimately responsible for having him crucified. In fact, today’s Gospel reading takes place just days before Jesus would be arrested, put on trial and crucified.
But still, Jesus is trying to get through to them. And what’s the best way to get a point across? Tell a story. So Jesus tells a story – a parable –that is directed right at these religious leaders.
A landowner planted a vineyard. It was huge, fenced in, and had a watch tower to guard it. After a while the landowner can no longer maintain this vast estate, so he leases it to tenants and leaves it in their care. All he asks in return is a share of the produce at harvest time. The tenants gladly agree.
When harvest time comes, the landowner sends some servants to the vineyard to collect his share of the produce. But the tenants, instead of welcoming these servants and handing over to them the share that belongs to the owner, beat one of the servants, kill another and stone another. Word reaches the landowner. He is outraged. He sends some more servants to collect his share and again the tenants do the same thing to them.
Finally, the landowner decides to send his son. “They will respect my son,” Or so he thinks. When the tenants see the son approaching, they say, “This is the heir; come, let’s kill him and get his inheritance.” And that’s exactly what they do. The tenants kill the landowner’s son.
You see, here’s the problem. These tenants – and remember they are just tenants – just care takers – of something that is not theirs. They are NOT the owners, and yet, they act like they do own the vineyard – and they scheme to get control of it.
Jesus compares these rascally tenants – without really saying so – to the Pharisees and religious leaders. And they know it! They know as they listen to this parable that Jesus is talking about them.
And to this day – with rare exception – how do we remember the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day? Yeah! As self-centered, self-righteous, and often greedy individuals. At least that’s how the Scriptures describe them to be. Now there are some exceptions – like Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night in the third chapter of John, and who, at the end of John’s Gospel we read that he, along with Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in a tomb. And in the book of Acts we read how some of the priests in Jerusalem became followers of Jesus as well. So not every Pharisee – not every religious leader – is painted in a negative way – but for the most part, we do not remember the Pharisees who butted heads with Jesus very fondly.
So I guess the question I need to ask you is, “How does this parable speak to you?” When Jesus says that, “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,” who is he talking about? He’s talking about me. He’s talking about you.
It might be easy to hear this parable and think that Jesus is simply rebuking the religious leaders of his day. But if that is how we hear this, then we are missing something.
What we need to hear – what we need to see – what we need to learn from this parable is that the vineyard has been turned over to us. We are the tenants. And since we are tenants – what does that mean?
Well – first of all, it means that we are not the owners. We are not owners of what has been given to us. My house is not my house. It’s God’s house. My car is not my car. It’s God’s car. These are things that God has given to me for my use – for my temporary use – things that though they are not mine, I still have the responsibility to take care of.
The point here is that we really are not owners of anything. What we have – what we use – what we wear – or what we drive – these things are really not ours. But ultimately – if we believe what the Scriptures say in the book of Psalms – “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” – then what we consider to be ours is simply on loan for us to use for a time. Because ultimately, it all belongs to God.
For instance, there is a story about “…a church located next door to a supermarket. Since the church was short on parking spaces and the supermarket was closed on Sundays, the church leaders asked the owner of the supermarket for permission to park in his lot. The owner’s response was ‘Fine. You are welcome to use it 51 weeks a year.’
“‘What about the other week?’ the church members asked.
“‘That week,’ said the owner of the market, ‘I’ll chain off the lot so you will always remember that the lot belongs to me, and not to the church.’”
Now I think that’s a good point. Who really owns those things that are ours to use? And it seems to me that at the heart of all of this is an invitation for each one of us to consider how it is that we view our possessions. Whose are they really? Who owns them? What do they mean to us – and how do we use them? What do we use them for?
I like what I read about a man named Howard Hendricks who writes, “My wife Jeanne and I once dined with a rich man from a blueblood Boston family, and I asked him, ‘How in the world did you grow up in the midst of such wealth and not be consumed by materialism?’
“His answer: ‘My parents taught us that everything in our home was either an idol or a tool’”.
I like that. Everything in my home is either an idol or a tool. Everything in your home is either an idol or a tool. Everything in this church is either an idol or a tool. So – in light of this parable that Jesus tells, how do you view your possessions? It seems to me that we fall into that category of being managers – not owners, but managers – of what God gives us.
Furthermore – let me suggest to you that we have been entrusted with two things. Number one has got to be the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ. The second would be our personal, worldly goods. Both come from God.
Let’s start with the Good News. The Good News is that – even though we sin – in other words, we fall short of God’s expectations for us – there is forgiveness. Genuine forgiveness from God – and reconciliation with God. And it’s all because of Jesus. This is the Good News. And it is indeed Good News for us.
But – we are not just the recipients of this Good News. But we are recipients who spread it around. We tell others about it. So don’t be afraid to tell somebody your story. Invite somebody to worship with us here. Share the Good News of Jesus Christ to your children. Read the Scriptures to your kids. Every night family blessing, right? Every night in every home. What we call the Faith 5? Share that Good News with your kids.
So first, we’ve been given the gift of God’s Word – the Good News of new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And then secondly, we’ve been blessed with earthly goods.
Now – as caretakers of these two things – the Good News and our possessions – God expects us to do something with them. To use them for good. To invest them for good. You want to be remembered well? That’s how to do it – to use what you’ve been given for good.
So let me return to my original question. How DO you want to be remembered? Like one of the Pharisees? I think not. I hope not! But is there someone out there who will tell a story of being blessed by YOUR generosity? Because ultimately, life isn’t about possessions, or what kind of house you live in, or what kind of car you drive. It’s about relationships. I find the older I get, the more that becomes real to me. All those other things that I thought I just had to have when I was in my 20’s and 30’s just don’t mean that much anymore. They’re just things. Tools, not idols. Life is about relationships, and in light of those relationships – what we do with what’s been given to us then becomes that much more important.
So what kind of tenant in God’s vineyard do you want to be? What kind of tenant in God’s vineyard WILL you be?
Will you be remembered as someone who loved God – someone who shared the Good News of Jesus Christ? Will you be remembered as someone who loved your family? Who loved your friends? Someone who used what you’ve been given – the Good News of Jesus Christ as well as your possessions – for God’s glory and for the benefit of others, as well as your own good?
Because ultimately, life is about relationships – our relationship with God through
Jesus Christ – and our relationships with each other. Does anything else really matter?