My first job was working at a grocery store. I carried out groceries, stocked shelves, unloaded trucks. It was the perfect job for a sixteen-year-old boy. But the thing I want you to know about my first job is that I didn’t apply for it. I didn’t turn in a resumé or fill out an application. I was chosen for it.
One day I was in the supermarket with my mom and the owner was working. When he saw me, he asked, “Would you like a job for the summer?” I said, “Yes.” I was chosen, and the truth is, I wasn’t a random choice. The owner knew me and I knew him. He believed I would be a leader, one who showed respect for his company. You might be wondering how I know this; I know it because he told me.
My first summer went as planned. I was rewarded with a raise. At the end of the summer I was asked to stay through the winter. The following summer I was asked to help open the store. I had been responsible with a little, so I was given more.
At some point during the second summer, the owner made the decision to take a rare vacation. The decline in productivity was immediate, and by the end of the week it was chaos. I remember walking into the back room and being pelted by a wad of shrink wrap. My fellow employees were engaged in a game of dodge ball—and it looked fun. Just as one of the managers walked in, I picked up the shrink wrap and let it fly.
The following Monday the owner returned, and he gave us a verbal lashing I will not forget. When he finished, he dismissed the group, but asked me to stay. As the others left, he said, “I expected better from you. I expected you to set an example.” His words hurt, and he was right. In spite of our relationship, my behavior looked no different from those who didn’t know him. But it should have.
Ancient Israel was picked by God—chosen. But for what?!
They were chosen to be the cradle of Christ. God said to Abraham, “… all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). First and foremost that’s what they were chosen for, but they were also chosen to be an example. They were chosen to look different. They had been given the Law of God—if you wanted to know what pleased God you were to look to Israel, for they knew him. If you wanted to know what is right in the eyes of God you were to look to Israel, for he had told them.
Unfortunately, Israel failed to be the light it was created to be. As Israel fell away, God sent prophets to warn them, and finally he sent his Son—Jesus Christ—to die for them.
Jesus said to the chief priests and Pharisees, “Listen to a parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“Therefore, (said Jesus) when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
In our text, Jesus allows the chief priests and Pharisees to pronounce the fate of the wicked tenants. They say, “He will bring them to an end… and rent the vineyard to other tenants.” Jesus agrees with their conclusion, stating, “… the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” The depth of Jesus’ threat is beyond what they can accept. The kingdom of God taken away… because they failed to do the work of God.
So, what is the work of God?
At one point during his ministry, Jesus’ disciples asked him that same question. He replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). Years ago, in that grocery store, I heard the voice of the owner and I was convicted. My heart changed, and there was restoration. A greater forgiveness was offered to the chief priests and Pharisees, and yet they rejected it because they did not believe in the One whom God has sent.
You have been chosen by God to live a life of faith—to live a life that points others to Jesus Christ. Not because you are better than them, but because you know God. You know the One who died for the sins of the world. You know the One who rose again. In him you are given the kingdom of God.
Rejoice, and produce its fruit.
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.