A God of Multiple Chances

Luke 20:9 He went on to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. 13 "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.' 14 "But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir,' they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. "What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others." When the people heard this, they said, "May this never be!" 17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, "Then what is the meaning of that which is written: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone'? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." 19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

Brad and Emma (not their real names) had serious marriage problems. He had cheated on her. Multiple times. Emma accepted Brad back. Though she was willing to work on the marriage … he obviously wasn’t. Even after begging for Emma to trust him, to forgive him, and promising never to even look at another woman … he did it again. He cheated on her. Finally, Emma had enough. Brad had run out of chances.

Emma wouldn’t be fooled anymore.  

Charlie (not his real name, either) became mixed up with drugs, alcohol and partying while in college. Charlie’s friends from high school tried reaching out to him, but they couldn’t get through. Various friends of Charlie’s parents hired him for jobs but he wouldn’t show up. His parents pampered, then warned, then threatened. But nothing worked. The friends gave up. The employers wouldn’t hire him anymore. Charlie’s parents wouldn’t pay for anymore college and even kicked him out of the house. Finally, they all had enough. Charlie had run out of chances.

Charlie’s parents wouldn’t be fooled anymore.

Jesus tells a parable about some tenants (not their real names, since they were really representative of the Jews). It is a story about multiple chances.

You have heard the phrase before, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” When someone tricks you, you’re supposed to learn your lesson the first time around. Those who fool you, trick you, fail you, are not to be trusted again. If they fool you twice, well, shame on you for giving them a second chance.

But the vineyard owner in Jesus’ parable evidently didn’t understand that old saying. Or, perhaps, he simply chose not to live by it. His tenants fooled him out of his payments multiple times. Actually, it was even worse than that. Not only did they cheat him out of his rent, but they also beat up his servants whom he had sent to collect the money.

After being cheated out of his rent and having his servant beaten up, any reasonable man would never have dreamed of doing what the vineyard owner did next. He asks himself, “What shall I do?” But instead of answering, “I’ll kill them all!” or, “I’ll teach them a lesson they’ll never forget!”, he says instead, “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” Not only does he give them a fourth chance; he risks the very life of his son in doing so. There lay three of his servants, with blackened eyes and broken bones, scarred by cuts and abrasions, and he imagines things will go better for his son? Seriously? Does he not foresee the danger? But send that son he does. And, indeed, things do go badly, the ingratitude and greed and violence escalate from PG to an R-rated horror. For when they see the son approaching, the tenants say to each other, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him, so the inheritance will be ours.”

Instead of respect, there is rage; instead of payment, there is pulverizing; the beloved son is now a bloodied corpse.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” Jesus asks. “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” Finally, the vineyard owner has had enough! The tenants had run out of chances. After risking the life of three of his servants, and losing the life of his beloved son, he gives the tenants what they deserve — judgment. He destroys them and gives the vineyard to others.

What is most astounding about this story is not the perversity of the tenants but the patience of the owner. The story is about their evil, but even more about his good. This story is about the patience of God – a God of second chances, third chances, fourth chances, and even more.

God is the owner of the vineyard. God had planted His people – the tenants – in the Promised Land of Canaan. Tenants are to give a fair share of the profits to the owner of the vineyard. God’s people were to worship and serve Him only. But they continually broke their contract with God. They killed God’s prophets, the ones He sent into the vineyard to reach out to His people. They even went so far as to kill the owner’s son – Jesus Christ.

God is the owner of the vineyard. You and I are the tenants.

How do you treat the Landlord when He makes a claim on your life? The sin of the tenants was that they refused to give the landlord his rightful reimbursement. Don’t we do the same thing?

God has given us the Vineyard of His world and His Church. We are strangers here, tenants who owe everything we have, everything we are, to the Landlord. We don’t own anything. But like those selfish tenants, we act like this is all our stuff, we own it, and the Lord will get His share when we are good and ready to give it to Him. If you’ve ever owed rent to a landlord or owed the bank for a mortgage, you know you cannot get away with only paying a fraction of what you owe. So why do we act as though we can skimp on our Lord and expect Him to be fine with it?

We cheat God when He asks us for our time, but we tell Him we are too busy right now. We cheat the Savior when He invites us to worship but we have other things on our schedule. We cheat the Lord when He suggests a use for our talents in His Vineyard, but we’d rather use them elsewhere to our glory and benefit. We cheat the Landlord when we bring meager portions of our income to Him, but then shop online for all the cool things we can spend our money on. We cheat God out of time with Him, maybe not by killing the prophets by certainly avoiding their message. We cheat God when He comes to us, looking for good, and finds evil. In fact, He finds tenants who become angry and violent when He asks for the bare minimum of decency and selflessness.

We are most definitely these tenants – these ungrateful, violent men.

We don’t blame Emma for giving up on Brad. It was his fault that he had run out of chances.

We don’t blame Charlie’s parents or friends for giving up on Charlie. It was his fault that he had run out of chances.

And we shouldn’t blame God if He decided to give up on us. It is our own fault that we have used up all our chances.

Jesus portrays God as a man of business. But He doesn’t act like the business world acts. For He is not a Lord of commerce, but rather a Father of compassion.

God has every right to give up on you. But He doesn’t! He doesn’t say, “Fool me twice, shame on me,” strip you of your blessings, and kick you out of His Kingdom. No, instead, He affirms, “You are my child. A foolish one. An ungrateful one. Even a violent one. But you are mine and I will never be ashamed of you.”

Your spouse may be done with you. Your parents may have had enough of you. Your siblings may not be able to stand you. Your friends may have turned their backs on you. … But the Father of all mercies does not. He sends His servants – His pastors – to you. He sends His Son – Jesus – to you. He doesn’t have to, but He does. He gives you another chance. 

In Jesus’ parable, the tenants killed the owner’s son. They didn’t kill him and then throw his body out of the vineyard. No, they threw him outside the walls of the vineyard … and then they killed him. What’s the difference? This sequence of events is a prophecy of exactly what happened to Jesus, the Landowner’s only Son. The writer to the Hebrews describes how Jesus was thrown out of Jerusalem and then killed: “and so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:12).

But there is a difference between the parable and the real-life event. In the story, the owner assumes that the son would be treated with respect. In reality, God sent His Son into the world, not just knowing that He would be rejected and killed, but for the very purpose that He be rejected and killed. In the parable, the son remained dead. In reality, the Son was raised from the dead. All of this would happen in less than one week from when Jesus spoke this parable. It would all be accomplished. It would all be finished. Our redemption, our atonement, our forgiveness, won by the death of God’s Son at the hands of wicked tenants. But as He so often does, God used rejection and evil for His good. He used death to defeat death.

Jesus is the son who is cast out and killed. But He who was cast out brings you back in. He died and is alive again. He comes back into the vineyard to claim you. To wrap His arms around you. To forgive you for what you have done to Him with your sins and rejection. To accept you, not only as tenant in His Father’s vineyard, but as His own dear brother or sister through baptism. To sit down and eat a meal with you at His communion table.

That is why the Father sent Him to us. Not to die for the righteous, but to die for those whose lives are full of one failure after another. He came to wash not the clean but the dirty. He came to accept not those who are running to Him, but to search out those who are running away and hiding from Him.

Fellow tenants in the Lord’s vineyard, there is hope at the end of this parable. There is hope for us wicked tenants. Hope, for when the owner of the vineyard returns, He will not see us as those who killed His Son, but as ones for whom His Son died.

That is the way of our God. It is the way of forgiveness. He keeps no record of how many chances he’s given you. For in the end, it’s not about how many times you’ve messed up, but how constant, how unwavering, is the Father’s love for you in Jesus Christ.

Thank the Lord that He is a God of multiple – and more – chances. Amen.