Building with Stone
In the early 1980’s the King of Jordan Hussein bin Talal, was informed by his security police that a group of 75 Jordanian army officers were at that moment meeting in a barracks, plotting to overthrow him. The security officers were requesting permission to storm the barracks and arrest the plotters. The king paused and said bring me a small helicopter. The king climbed into the helicopter and they flew to the barracks landing on the roof. The king told the pilot, “if you hear gun shots, fly away at once without me.” The king completely unarmed and without security walked down two flights of stairs and appeared in the room.
He said to them. “Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you are meeting here tonight to finalize your plans to overthrow the government, take over the country and install a military dictator. If you do this, the army will break apart and the country will be plunged into civil war. Tens of thousands of innocent people will die. There is no need for this. Here I am! Kill me and proceed. That way, only one man will die.
The men stood in stunned silence. They all reaffirmed their allegiance to their king and their country. This was an act of total vulnerability that appealed to their sense of Honor.
In our texts today, we hear two stories about vineyards. The first from Isaiah is a fascinating piece of poetry. The prophet begins by proposing to sing a song. The song begins as a traditional piece of poetry, utilizing the image of a vineyard. The vineyard has not yielded what was expected. It has yield wild grapes, not what was sown or painstakingly cared for. The prophet makes clear this is not a song to a beloved but a moment of judgement. God has cared deeply for this vineyard and God expected justice but saw bloodshed. God longed for righteousness, but instead heard the cries of those in need.
Jesus is in the temple, just a paragraph or two before Jesus has cleared the temple driving out the money changers. Commanding authority over the temple. The chief priests and elders are gathered around him. They question him, asking on what authority he has done these things. Which honestly feels like a pretty controlled response if you consider his actions the day before. Jesus responds with his own question, wanting to know if John’s baptism was from God or human origin. These leaders are caught, they can’t respond.
Jesus begins with two parables. The first parable is much shorter. A man had two sons, he said to the first son “Go and work in the vineyard today” the son answered, ‘I will not’. But later that son changed his mind and went work. The father asked the second son the same question and he answered, ‘I will go father’; but he never went. Jesus asks them who did the will of the Father. They respond that the first did the will of the Father. Jesus always one to make friends, lets them know the outcasts of the culture will make into in the kingdom before they will, because they heard God’s call in John’s baptism.
If that wasn’t enough he begins with second parable. A landowner plants a vineyard and then puts a fence around it, digs a wine press, and builds a watch tower. The landowner leases the land and moves out of town. As the harvest rolls around. The landowner sends slaves to collect his portion of the produce. But the tenants abuse the slaves, beating one, killing one, and stoning another. This very patient landlord sends another round of slaves. The results are the same. Finally, this landlord sends his son, thinking surely, they will respect my son. The tenants consider this as an opportunity to kill the landowner’s heir, so they seize him and kill him. This response from the tenants isn’t as shocking as it sounds, the common understanding of the law at this time was “possession is determined by occupancy”. They occupy the land and want to own it. Jesus raises the question what should be done with these tenants? The crowd answers that they should be put to death and new loyal tenants should be given the lease.
One scholar listed twelve different reading of this parable. You can concentrate on the behavior of the tenants and see how badly they have acted, rejecting messenger after messenger. Committing violence against the landowner. You can also concentrate on the behavior of the landowner. In the Isaiah passage, the landowner allows vineyard to be overtaken and destroyed, but in Matthew the response is very different. The landowner shows a tremendous amount of trust, traveling to another country allowing the tenants the freedom work the land. Their response to his trust is violence. The landlord could have responded to their violence with even further violence. But instead he gives them chance after chance. If you are the landlord what are you to do? The landlord has the right to contact the authorities who at his request will send a heavily armed company of men to storm the vineyard. The landlord has the right to be angry, they murdered his servants, his son. He is in a position of power but will he allow their violence to dictate his own response? No; perpetually the owner acts in a way we would not expect or predict. In fact the owner gives up his rights. One commentator described the behavior of the landlord as “Halim.” This Arabic word has no English equivalent, but it is an act of patience, longsuffering, risk-taking, compassionate, self-emptying. This owner has the right and the power yet the owner endures.
In his book Welcome Home, Alan Gram, founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, an organization that shares the love of God with those experiencing homelessness, tells the story of Danny. Danny had a successful carpet cleaning and installation business, then through a series events ended up on the street. First he was living out of his car and then when his car died, he was living in a tent. Danny is a Vietnam veteran and said he had never been that scared as the first night he spent on the street. Danny thought, “I just need a job.” Over his 15-year career he had helped several guys start their own business, adjusting their hours so they could save money and start their carpet cleaning business. Danny was proud of the way he had helped people and thought surely one of these guys will help him. But no one would help him. Danny fell into a depression that quickly morphed into a drug addiction. A couple of street friends eventually helped him sober up. Danny made it his life’s work to show compassion to others. When Texas experienced a hurricane, people on the streets lost literally everything. He worked with a non-profit to start a FEMA like response unit that would care for those experiencing homelessness after a disaster. If he had money, he would share it with those who had less. He became known as preacher, not so much because of his words, but because of his actions. One night while living in a camp he knocked on his neighbors’ tent. Saying: “Claire, y home?” She was asleep and wasn’t thrilled about being woken up. A few hours later around 4am he heard “Dan! Dan! Wake up!” He woke up startled and said, “Yes, Claire, I’m awake.” Claire responded, “Good now don’t ever bother me again!” Danny waited a few moments and said “Claire.” Are you serious? What do you want now? You hungry?” “Yeah, so what? I ain’t got no money.” Dan said, “I’ll buy you breakfast! Let’s go.” She was blown away by the response. They sat at Denny’s and had a Grand Slam. This act of compassion from Dan helped eventually lead Claire to a new life. Just like an act of compassion led Dan to a new life. 
On this day as we unite with the world in communion we should focus on the character of the owner of the vineyard, on God. God whose love for us is endless, on God whose love for us is unchanging, God who shows us compassion after compassion, even while we rebel against God.
 Bailey, Ken Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, pg 410
 Alan Graham, Welcome Home. Pg 67