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Reversing Revenge

Reversing Revenge

Category: Sunday Morning Sermon

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin


Matthew 21:33-46

Lectionary 27 Pentecost 18 A

October 8, 2017


Christ Lutheran Church

Zionsville, Indiana

Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin



We do not have to teach our children about revenge. The instinct to “get back and get even” is there from the beginning.  Even our seemingly innocent pre-schoolers can curl their lips, kick, scratch and scream. Do we not do the same? We may not kick, scratch and scream, but the look on our face still says, “I could kill you!”


The parable in today’s Gospel shows just how ugly the human heart can be.  It is easy for us to miss the point of the parable and think it is simply a story about Jesus, his enemies and what they did to him. However, this parable is really about us and what we do to one another and to God.


A man plants a vineyard.  He expends much effort building hedges, a winepress, and a watchtower.  Then, he rents out the vineyard. One day rent is due. The landowner sends some of his servants to collect the rent.  So far, our sympathy is with the renters.  The landlord is probably rich, probably powerful, and probably lives in Palm Beach, basking in the sand, sipping on his martinis.  The renters are good, basic, simple, working people.  Our sympathy for the renters is about to be jolted. When the master’s servants appear to collect the rent, the renters beat them, kill some and send the rest packing without the rent.


What will the landowner do to the renters who have trashed him?  Both his income and his honor are at stake.  If he allows such behavior to go unchallenged, no one will ever think that they need to pay their rent again.


He sends some more servants. The renters beat and kill them too. What is the master to do? Maybe if He sends his SON it will make a difference.


“Harold, you go down to my vineyard. Surely, you will fare better than my servants.  Surely they will respect my son.”


What kind of master is this?  Has he not learned his lesson?  Ought he not to give those rebellious servants what they deserve?


When the son arrives, the renters say, “This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him and the inheritance of the vineyard will be ours.”  And they took him and they killed him.


The master has no rent, no honor, no servants, and now, no son!


It is easy for us to distance ourselves from this parable and think that it is only about Jesus’ crucifixion by his enemies.  It is easy for us to think that this parable is only about the revenge-filled hearts of Jesus’ enemies. They will get what they deserve.  How mistaken we are!  This story is about us.


One afternoon a shopper at a local mall decided it was time for a coffee break.  She bought a little bag of cookies and a cup of coffee. She put the cookies in her purse and sat down at a table to relax. She took out her magazine, began to read and sipped her coffee.  Across the table sat a man his reading newspaper.


She reached out and took a cookie.  As she did, the man seated across the table reached out and took one too. What? What nerve! How dare he take one of her cookies!


A few moments later she took another cookie.  Once again the man did too. Now she was very upset, especially since there was now only one cookie left.


Apparently the man also realized that only one cookie was left.  He took it, broke it in half, offered it to her, and proceeded to eat the other half himself.  Then he smiled, stood up, put his paper under his arm and walked off.


She was steamed! Who did he think he was?


Her coffee break ruined, already thinking of how she would report this abuse to her family, she folded her magazine, opened her purse . . . and there discovered . . .  her unopened bag of cookies!!!


All the time she had been unwittingly helping herself not to her cookies but to the stranger’s cookies. He had been her gracious host while she had been petty, selfish and only wanting revenge.


It was the stranger who had every right to be offended.  She had taken what had belonged to him without asking or even acknowledging it with a word of thanks. It was the stranger who had every right to “get back and even.”


We cannot help ourselves. We cannot escape our thirst for revenge. We have decided to take over the vineyard. We no longer will give God His due. We are only interested in ourselves. We think that we have every right to be judge, jury and executioner. We call the shots, if not for the universe, then at least for everyone sitting around our table.


This dark and tragic parable leaves us in a very precarious situation, facing a miserable death at the hand of an angry God who has had it with our arrogance . . .  WERE IT NOT for the marvelous twist that Jesus gives this parable!  Jesus quotes Psalm 118: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” In so doing, Jesus announces that God is at work, even in the hatred, arrogance and revenge that led to the crucifixion and death of the landowner’s son, saving those murderous renters from the fate they deserve.


Back to the parable: The landowner will not put up with the abuse. The renters must pay for their crime. The landowner gets revenge. However, Jesus’ marvelous twist promises that in His coming death and resurrection God’s judgment of despicable renters collides head on with God’s determination to love the world and never give up on His vineyard. So, God lets His Son suffer the fate that is ours on a cross. BUT the very stone that the builders rejected, the very son that the renters killed, God raises from the dead and makes the cornerstone of His plan to save the world.


What a strangely wonderful way to do business!  It is good news for us who are so insecure and unsure that we must “get back and get even” to be someone. In the process we abuse one another and abuse God.  God will not look the other way, but in the strangely wonderful economy of His vineyard, God sends his son to suffer the fate that ought to be ours. We may be relentlessly captive to our desire for revenge, but not God! In Jesus Christ the never-ending cycle of revenge and making everyone pay is reversed and undone!


Isn’t it amazing that the very stone, which the builders rejected, has now become the corner stone of a whole new world?  Now there is hope, . . . even for us. No longer unsure and insecure, we do not need to make everyone pay. We can join God in beginning to reverse the revenge that makes a mess of life in this world.


During the Sandinista Revolution of Nicaragua in the 1980’s, the government army captured one of the revolutionary generals. They horribly tortured and beat him.  They took his wife and raped her. In other words, they did everything possible to dehumanize him and strip away every shred of his dignity.


The war continued. Eventually, the rebels were victorious. After their victory, they marched the leaders of the government army into prison.  In dramatic fashion the rebel prisoners marched out of the prison at the same time as the government soldiers who had tortured and abused them marched past them into the prison. 


Suddenly the procession came to a halt. The rebel general, the one whom the government army had so beaten and humiliated in prison, came face-to-face with the very man who had ordered the torture of him and his family.


“You know me! I know you!” he shouted.


The man was terrified.  At first he denied that he knew him, but then knew he had been caught. He began to tremble begging his accuser for mercy. The rebel general shrieked, “You know me! You are the one who ordered the rape and torture of my wife.”


After a lengthy pause, the rebel general grabbed his torturer by the collar and shouted, “Do you know what this revolution is all about?”


The government soldier, attempting to save himself, muttered that he knew all about the revolution. He agreed with the goals of the revolution. He was ready to support the revolution.


To this the rebel general said, “No, you do not know what this revolution is about. This revolution is about a very different Nicaragua. . . .  I forgive you. THAT is what this revolution is all about.”


You see, the rebel general was not only a leader of a national revolt. He was also a Christian.  Christ was alive in him working a revolution in his heart. Christ had reversed the revenge lurking in his heart and its never ending demand to even the score. He no longer had to “get back and get even” in order to be somebody.


That same revolution is possible for us.  Because Jesus died and rose again, because the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, we know that in the eyes of God we are somebody. We matter. We count. We don’t need to “get back and get even.”


Therefore, we can begin the reverse the revenge that holds this world captive.  We too can put one more stone into building the Kingdom of God.


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