“May this never be!” Such was the horrified response to the bloody end of Jesus’ parable of the tenants (Luke 20:9-19).
The hearers had heard a parable about tenant-farmers turned terrorist-squatters. The vineyard owner had merely asked the tenants for his share of the fruit from his vineyard which he graciously leased to them But the tenants responded with hostility. The vineyard owner countered with amazing patience as he sent one servant after another – apparently armed with only his patient appeal. The tenants gave the servants only bruises, no fruit.
Then, in an act of patience beyond reason the vineyard owner sends his beloved son in the fervent hope that they would respect him! But that final overture of the vineyard owner is greeted with the most violent act yet. They kill the son in the vain hope that they could continue to possess the blessings of the vineyard apart from the vineyard owner.
But that is impossible since the owner of the vineyard is its source of blessing! Finally, the vineyard owner restates his rightful claim on his vineyard by destroying those who despised his patience.
“May this never be!” the hearers cry out!
Yet in only a matter of hours many who were listening would live out the parable’s script and beg the very judgment that horrified them! Among the hearers were the leaders who turned this parable meant to lead them to repentance into a further reason to kill God’s Son. Many others in Jerusalem, whether violently or passively, would join them in the rejection of their only hope – bringing nearer the very judgment that horrified them!
The math of the parable’s equation seems utterly ridiculous: abusing the owner’s messengers plus killing his son somehow equals squatter’s rights to continue to enjoy his property? Who would be so foolish as to believe that someone can continue to possess the blessings of God’s vineyard without God!
How so? My sinful heart wants to console itself that God’s vineyard with all its blessings are mine, yet somehow still wants to insist that God is asking too much if he asks for its fruit! He expects me to live in daily repentance? Hating sin and cherishing the grace of forgiveness, producing fruit to the honor of his gracious name? My sinful heart wants me to believe I can ignore his patient pleas for such fruit with no consequences. My sinful heart believes I can live as I please while still claiming the blessings of God’s kingdom. It believes the lie that I can exist in a kingdom of grace while continuing to abuse the very grace that is its charter! It believes the deceit that the blessings of life are mine to serve my own purposes. If I believe those lies of my natural heart, what else am I doing than claiming a proud squatter’s rights to the vineyard without the inconveniences of dealing with the vineyard Owner?
“May this never be!” The people of Jerusalem were appalled at the violent end awaiting the tenants, but many of them were apparently not appalled enough to turn from the foolish pattern of their own hearts. And so in a matter of hours they would prove themselves to be tenant-terrorists!
“May this never be!” I pray those words come out of my mouth each day – and yours too. No, not as it seemed to mean from so many in the crowd: “Please, God, continue to postpone judgment so that we can impenitently squat on your vineyard as long as we like!” No, the “this” we are praying may never be is that we would give in to our heart’s desire to possess the blessings of God’s kingdom apart from God and thus bring this day of judgment on ourselves!
And the evident beauty of this parable – despite its horrific end – is that the vineyard owner clearly wants that same thing for you and me! What do you think his patient sending of one emissary after another means? What do you think it means that he was willing to send his son? What do you think it means that the son was willing to go when any reasonable person would have known that only wounds and blows and death awaited him!
“May this never be!” Suddenly we realize that we are not left alone to cry out those words!
“May this never be!” shouts the Son who rushed into the vineyard knowing he would be crushed and broken apart from the blessings of his own kingdom!
“May this never be!” shouts the Son from his bloody cross as he bears the burden of our rebellion!
“May this never be!” shouts the Son who by all of that yielded to his Father the fruit of salvation his Father longed to give us so that we might never be crushed and broken by his judgment!
But that’s not the end of the shouting!
“May this never be!” sings in glorious duet the Spirit who daily wars mightily against that arrogant squatter who still takes up residence in our hearts.
“May this never be!” says the Father in a Triune trio as he patiently teaches us the depth of his love for us so that we might learn to love the vineyard Owner even more than the vineyard – and thus joyfully join his Son in yielding to him the vineyard’s fruit.
“May this never be!” Thank you, Lord! That isn’t just my prayer. That is your saving will!