February 25, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 20:9-13 (NRSV)
He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’”
Jesus told a story about a vineyard owner whose tenants rebelled against his authority, mistreating his representatives and ultimately killing his son. Though this parable was a searing indictment of the leaders in Jerusalem, it also conveyed the surprising, persistent grace of God. Even when we reject God, he pursues us, reaching out again and again. In this season of Lent, may we receive God’s grace with open hearts.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In the previous devotion, we watched as Jesus and some Jewish leaders jousted verbally over the question of Jesus’s authority. In the following passage, Jesus told a story about people rebelling against authority.
The basic meaning of the parable of the vineyard owner is clear. This man leased his vineyard to tenants and went away. Later, he sent one of his slaves to collect his share of the produce, the rent, if you will. But the tenants beat the slave and chased him away. So the owner sent another slave, who received similar treatment. Then he sent a third slave, who once again was mistreated. Finally, the vineyard owner sent his own “beloved” son in the hope that he would be respected. But the tenants killed the son, thinking foolishly that they might inherit the vineyard. Not surprisingly, the owner finally destroyed the rebellious and murderous tenants, giving his vineyard to others.
Those who heard this parable responded with alarm, saying “Heaven forbid!” (Luke 20:16). The “scribes and chief priests,” realizing that Jesus had told the parable “against them,” “wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people” (Luke 20:19). These leaders got Jesus’s main point. God had repeatedly sent his representatives to Israel, but they were routinely rejected. When God’s own Son is rejected and killed, judgment will fall on those who are responsible. Jesus’s parable is a searing indictment of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
Though the people and the leaders were understandably disturbed by Jesus’s story, I wonder how many of them were also perplexed by the early behavior of the owner. After all, how much sense did his actions make? When his first representative was beaten and sent away empty-handed, the owner tried again, which was exceedingly hopeful. Even after the second slave was mistreated, the owner persisted, sending a third, who was similarly mistreated. At this point, any reasonable owner in the ancient world would have realized that his tenants weren’t going to pay what they owed, and would have taken action against them. But the vineyard owner in Jesus’s story tried again, sending his beloved son, and clearly not with a small militia as backup. What sort of person would do this? Was he naïve? Foolish? Or curiously, persistently, and extravagantly gracious?
Jesus’s parable spoke directly to the situation of Israel in relation to the prophets and to himself as God’s son. But we can see in this story a picture of the way God relates to us, living centuries later. Even when we resist God’s activity in our lives, even when we rebel against his authority, God keeps after us. God reaches out to us. God extends his grace to us, revealing “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
When we step out of this story into history, we recognize that God’s grace is even more persistent and amazing than that of the vineyard owner. Yes, God did send his Son to humankind. And, yes, human beings did kill the Son. But this did not bring destruction upon us. Rather, the sacrifice of the Son brought about our salvation. God continues to reach out to us, drawing us by his love and grace.
In this season of Lent, God is reaching out to you. You may be eager to respond, open to all that he wants to do in your life. Or you may be hesitant, even resistant, maybe even rebellious. The good news is that God’s love is more persistent than your hesitation, resistance, or rebellion. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How do you respond to Jesus’s parable? What does it lead you to think? To feel?
How has God reached out to you with his grace?
Can you think of a time (or times) when you resisted God’s grace? What happened?
How open are you to God today?
With a wise friend or your small group, talk about this parable and how you “fit” in it. In what ways are you like the tenants? How are you like the people who responded to Jesus’s parable? Are you ever like the vineyard owner in reaching out repeatedly to someone with grace, even if they are resistant?
Lord Jesus, as I reflect on this story, I’m reminded of how persistent your grace has been in my life. I think of times when I wandered away from you and you pursued me. I remember when I have resisted you, wanting to go my own way, but you reached out to draw me back to yourself. Thank you for your grace, your persistent, amazing grace.
Help me, Lord, to respond to you with an open heart and an open life. May I receive your grace, giving myself to you in response. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-41)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.