Wild Grapes Kill, God Loves Still

Text: Matthew 21:33-46
Date: Pentecost XVIII (Proper 22A) + 10/8/17

In the shadow of the largest mass killing in American history last Sunday night/early Monday morning the appointed Gospel for this day gives us an insight into God’s perspective, His view of our world, of our troubles, of evil, and of our sufferings. When everyone is desperately searching for a reason, for some explanation for the aimless violence we witnessed in Las Vegas, we look to God alone who is Lord over all, the good and the bad, the joyful and the tragic, who alone can help us understand how we are to deal with especially the evil days.

As the Church Year is coming to an end we are reminded of the last days of Our Lord’s earthly ministry. Opposition and even the threats against His own life was and were quickly increasing. Though today we hear Jesus deliver a parable it’s not that difficult to figure out. He addresses His accusers, even bringing the verdict of their condemnation out of their own mouths. But to begin, He brings to mind the ancient Word of God’s love, His saving work in the world in the metaphor of a vineyard.

We heard Isaiah sing, “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard.” Then He speaks of God’s loving plan of salvation for the world which had been devastated by sin, the devil and death. “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it.” In other words God has done everything needed, everything beyond our ability to construct, to bring us to life. Then he says God looked for a good result of His labor, He looked for it to yield grapes. Today’s Psalm paints the same picture; God bringing a vine out of Egypt, driving out the nations, planting the vine, clearing the ground for it. There was only one problem. “When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” And there’s the question we’ve heard echoed every day for the past week, and at other times of tragedy, “Why?” There is an answer.

Good grapes are for making good wine. Wild grapes are good for nothing. I looked up wild grapes on the internet and found this advice. “Make sure you rule these out—none of them are edible, and some are quite poisonous.” Then it lists “virginia creeper” and “Canada moonseed” as examples. Wild Grapes Kill.

Wild grapes in the metaphor of a vineyard is to remind us of how sin has infected and killed 100% of mankind, the truly largest mass killing in the history of the world. So it is not an unrelated issue for Jesus to introduce killing in this parable. The tenants killed the master’s servants. All mankind are the tenants of God’s creation, and those of the house of Israel in a special way. Nevertheless, sin has turned us into wild grapes, each of us created by God for His good purpose of life, but all of us ruined, incapable of life, poisoned from the beginning ending only in death. Worse than that it is because of the fallen, sinful nature of man that all manner of evil rules the day. Remember St. Paul’s list from Romans 1. Speaking of all mankind he writes, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Our first observation must be that the same evil that we saw perpetrated in Las Vegas exists also in us, in each of us. Wild grapes kill.

The amazing thing, the thing over which we are to marvel as the Psalm reminds us, “The Lord’s doing is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps 118:23), is that through it all, in spite of it all, God still loves us, loves the world. And we’re told that He loves the world so much “that He sent His Son.”

Finally, the master of the vineyard sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” That was His hope. That was His love. But actually, He knew they wouldn’t. “Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance” they said. But this evil didn’t make God’s loving plan backfire. Mysteriously, God used the very evil that destroyed even His only begotten Son, to be destroyed because it lashed out against the only one, the very one who it could not destroy, the Lord of Life. By His death He has destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb 2:14). The point is that while Wild Grapes Kill, God Loves Still.

Even in the face of horrendous evil the Word of God through the Apostle Paul still stands, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us,” as He surely is, “who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Or a Wild Grape on the 32nd floor of a hotel? “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:31-37). How can the apostle say that? How can we believe that?

Martin Luther addressed himself to the suffering of the Christian in a sermon preached the Saturday before Easter, 1530. He began with that Holy Week theme of the suffering of Christ. Christ had no need of suffering, of course, “but we and the whole human race needed this suffering.”[1]

“His suffering is an example, which we are to follow in our suffering.” Our suffering does not earn the least merit before God but “we should suffer after Christ, that we may be conformed to him. For God has appointed that we should not only believe in the crucified Christ, but also be crucified with him.”

 

The promise is that God will turn and transform our suffering in Christ to our advantage. Christ promised, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Luther calls it “the Christian art, which we must all learn, the art of looking to the Word and looking away from all the trouble and suffering that lies upon us and weighs us down…. This then is the true art, that in suffering and cross we should look to the Word and the comforting assurance, and trust them…. It is as if he were saying: Danger and terror will surely hit you if you accept my Word; but let it come, this will happen to you because of me. So be of good cheer; I will not forsake you, I will be with you and will help you. No matter how great the affliction may be, it will be small and light for you, if you are able to draw such thoughts from the Word of God. Therefore in affliction every Christian should so arm himself that he may defend and guard himself with the fine, comfortable assurances which Christ, our dear Lord, has left us when we suffer for his Word’s sake.”

Wild Grapes Kill, but God Loves Still. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

[1] The following quotes are from AE 51, 197ff.