Fruitless, part 2

As we saw in the previous post, soon after his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus told a parable about wicked tenant farmers who killed the landowner’s servants and then his son to get possession of the vineyard they had been hired to work.  The symbolism of the parable is not difficult: the vineyard is Israel; the tenants are the leaders to whom Jesus is speaking, and all that they represent.  The servants are the prophets, and the son, of course, is Jesus himself.

Read this way, the parable is an indictment of the violence, faithlessness, and greed of those who were supposed to instruct the people in the fruit of righteousness.  But Jesus’ opponents don’t seem to understand just yet.  He puts a question to them: “When the landowner finally shows up, what do you think he’s going to do?” (Matt 21:40).

His audience has been drawn in by the story; they’re indignant at the evil tenants, not realizing that they’re condemning themselves as they answer Jesus’ question.  “Well, of course, the landowner will kick those miserable sinners out and find someone else who can be trusted to do the right thing!”

I imagine Jesus nodding in response as he quotes Scripture—Psalm 118:22-23, to be exact:

Haven’t you ever read in the scriptures, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes ?  Therefore, I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and will be given to a people who produce its fruit.  (Matt 21:42-43, CEB)

In our day of wood-frame housing, concrete and steel, the concept of a cornerstone may be unfamiliar.  Builders had to choose stones carefully.  The “cornerstone” could be a crucial part of the foundation, or have a prominent place at the top of the structure.  Either way, the point is that those who had the responsibility of choosing the stones for the structure threw away the one that was most important to the blueprint.  The leaders had their own ideas of kingdom and power, and Jesus simply didn’t fit their plan.

But like the wicked tenants of the parable, the leaders of the people have forfeited their role; God will take the kingdom away from them, and give it to those who will get on with the proper task of producing fruit.  And opposing the cornerstone is not without consequences; the result is to be broken or crushed (vs. 44).

When Jesus spoke these words, the chief priests and Pharisees finally understood: Hey, wait a minute — he’s talking about us!  They wanted to arrest him, but backed off because of the crowds (vss. 45-46).

It’s so easy, when reading stories like this, to assume that we understand what they did not: it’s about grace, not empty legalism; humility, not arrogance.

But at the core of Jesus’ parable, it’s about fruit — the fruit God rightfully expects to collect, the fruit for which the new tenants of the vineyard should work with a sense of joy and privilege.

We approach the celebration of Easter.  We thank God for the gift of resurrection, for the promise that is our hope.  But resurrection life is not just about the future; it’s about being empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in the present.   On Easter, let’s not merely celebrate the resurrection that will be, but the resurrection that already is.

And may we have the fruit to show for it.