I don’t understand the vineyard owner in the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 20 typically referred to as the parable of the wicked tenants. The vineyard owner is not very wise.
I understand that the crux of the parable is a condemnation of the Jewish leaders. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple. He has been in multiple disagreements with the Jewish authorities, and at the end of the parable the religious leaders “perceived” that Jesus had told the parable against them so they plan to kill him. The focus is judgment against the religious authorities.
Yet, it’s the owner of the vineyard that catches my attention and in some ways bothers me. He’s not very wise. I understand, he rented the vineyard to some scoundrels on accident. He didn’t mean to do it, they seemed trustworthy and paid a deposit, it happens to everyone who has ever rented before. He didn’t realize his mistake until he started sending servants to collect part of the produce as rent. But once the servants start getting ignored, thrown out, and injured, he realized his mistake. However, this is the point at which his response makes no sense. After the third servant is injured, he should have called in the authorities. This is the time to take the wicked tenants to court to have them evicted. This is the time to call in the police and have them removed by force. But that’s not how the vineyard owner responds. Instead, he sends his beloved son. “Perhaps they will respect him.”
I want to scream at the vineyard owner, “what are you thinking?” Have you not been paying attention? Are you really so ignorant that you don’t know what’s happening? They don’t respect your servants, they are not going to respect your son. All you are doing is putting your beloved son in danger. Why would you be so reckless? Why are you continuing to offer love, mercy, and grace when they clearly don’t deserve it?
Then I remember, there is a pattern in scripture of God continuing to love even when the covenant relationship is broken.
Consider Adam and Eve. God must have been heartbroken after they so quickly deserted God’s good plan for the world and chased their own dreams and reality. They wanted to be like God, but that choice drove them farther away. It would have been easy for God to wipe them out and start over, but instead God chooses to cloth them and provide for them while beginning the process of redemption.
Consider the exodus and Mt. Sinai. God reminds Israel at the beginning of the Ten Commandments, “I am the God who brought you out of slavery and the house of Egypt.” God has already blessed Israel more than they deserve. Israel claims allegiance, but it only takes a few days before Israel turns in their gold for the Golden calf and switch their allegiance. God is angry, but God chooses to forgive and remain in relationship.
Or consider God’s love shown through Hosea and Gomer. Gomer is unfaithful to Hosea and has children by another lover. God tells Hosea that Israel is just like Gomer, unfaithful in many ways. Yet God chooses to seek reconciliation instead of divorce. God takes his lover out into the wilderness and woos his lover back. God says even when you want nothing to do with me, i will continue to love you and bring you back.
God has a pattern of reckless love in which God is willing to go to any length to restore relationship, and bring back the beloved.
It’s exactly what Jesus does. Humanity has fallen away and continued to sin. Humanity has rejected God and rejected the prophets God sent to remind them of their first love. Yet instead of bringing destruction for their sins, God chooses to send the beloved Son, the one who is well pleasing to the Father. Jesus comes to Earth and they kill him; we kill him. God should have known what was going to happen. God did know what was going to happen. But because God so loved the world, God sent the beloved Son. Because God desired relationship to be restored, God was willing to offer grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That’s just who God is. It’s nothing new. The pattern has been established.
While the parable in Luke 20 is directed toward the religious leaders, it’s the vineyard owner who is most impressive; he risked everything to restore relationship. Many would call that unwise. I often think of it as unwise. God calls it love; and I’m very grateful.
“For God so loved the world that God sent the Beloved Son into the world, that whoever believes in the Son will have abundant life.” (John 3:16)