Listening to Jesus About Being Rejected

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 12:10-11

“Have you not read this scripture: `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’?”

Mark 12:10-11 rsv

Most of us know how it feels to be rejected. You applied to a certain college or trade school and were turned down. You tried for a coveted job, went for an interview, but they hired someone else. You submitted a manuscript you had worked on for a long time but the publisher somehow wasn’t interested. Rejection.

Sometimes it’s more painful still. Your mother and father perhaps divorced when you were young and neither wanted to keep you. You were desolate. Or you were in love, wanting more than anything to marry this person but your dearest said no to you and married another. You were crushed. Rejection again.

There is someone who feels that pain with you, who really understands. Jesus Christ the risen Lord shares your sorrow, knows your pain. When He came among us at Christmas to share our human lot, He tasted rejection. It was more than a taste. He drank that bitter cup right down to the dregs. His whole life seemed to witness one rejection after another. The world to which He came did not welcome Him. His own people didn’t want Him around.

You remember it. No room at the inn. Wily King Herod tries to kill Jesus while He’s still a baby. When He begins His public ministry, the townspeople in His village Nazareth try to push Him off a cliff. Rejection by His own.

The superreligious of His day can’t stand Him. The clever scholars try to trip Him up in argument. The rulers of His nation plot against Him. They finally arrest Him, flog Him, spit upon Him, deride His claims. Finally the mighty Roman empire pronounces Him unfit to live. He dies on the cruelest instrument of torture ever devised while His enemies look on, taunting and jeering. Yes. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

Jesus seemed to realize all through His ministry that this kind of treatment awaited Him. One parable He told made it piercingly plain. Listen. I’m reading from Mark, chapter 12:

“A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? [asked Jesus.] He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: `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’?”

HEARTLESS TENANTS

Here, if ever, is a story of rejection. Three things about it amaze me. They leave me shaking my head. The first is the terrible heartlessness of the tenants in the story. See how they treat these servants who come to them, innocent messengers from the far-away landlord. These emissaries are simply doing their job. They are there to receive what rightfully belongs to their Master. But they are treated with the most savage hatred. The first is beaten, sent off with nothing. The second is publicly disgraced and gravely wounded. The third is actually done to death. Then follows a long succession of other messengers, each one meeting with abuse, violence. None escapes harm, and many die. When finally the master’s son appears, the tenants pour out their most brutal hostility on him. They throw his lifeless body out of the vineyard as though it were the carcass of a beast.

How, we wonder, could they act in that way? Surely this picture is overdrawn. How can they possibly hate the Lord of the vineyard that much? We read of no harm he has done them. They express no grievance, yet they treat him with implacable hatred, bitter contempt. They insult and reject him and his messengers. And not content with that, they murder the son who means more to him than his own life. The venom of their hostility is frightening, repulsive, unimaginable!

Jesus is telling here the story of His own people and how they rejected God’s prophets. God is the Lord of the vineyard, of course. Israel is the vine of His planting. The prophets are the servants who call the people to faithful stewardship. Can we believe what happens to them? Isaiah, the herald of faith, sawn asunder? Jeremiah tortured, thrown into a well and finally slain by his countrymen? Elijah driven into hiding. Zacharias stoned to death, John the Baptist beheaded? Can all that be possible? These are spokesmen for God – despised and destroyed by the very ones who claim God’s name.

But there’s more. When God sends His Son, their malice bursts all bounds. They try Him on false charges. Though He’s never wronged anyone, they treat Him like a vicious criminal. They subject Him to every kind of indignity and finally torture Him to death. Can you believe that? This story Jesus told would have been incredible if it hadn’t happened just that way in His experience.

Is it so much different in modern times? Recall the names of those in this century who have spoken for God, struggled for justice or plead for peace. How many of them have been gunned down in the streets for their trouble. So great is our passion to see the inheritance as ours and to treat God’s gifts as our possessions, to rule over what is only entrusted to us, that we seem to hate every suggestion that we and what we have could belong to someone else. So we discover to our horror that this tense, bitter story is somehow our story. We are there.

PATIENT LANDLORD

The second feature in the parable which amazes us is the patience of the owner. Can we imagine a powerful landowner with armed men at his command bearing with even the first insult from such tenants? Wouldn’t he march quickly with men at arms to put down this rebellion? But no, this one keeps on sending messengers. And when they are ignored, abused, even killed, his response is to send still others. When they meet the same fate, he keeps pouring in reinforcements. Amazingly, they are all envoys of peace, unarmed, as lambs being sent to the slaughter.

Again, we couldn’t take all that seriously if it hadn’t happened that way in Israel’s history. One prophet after another came to remind the people of their covenant responsibility, of what they owed to the God who had given them everything. But they shut their ears, stiffened their necks, hardened their hearts and rejected one ambassador after another. God kept sending more. He described that process more than once as “rising up early and sending” them. It almost seemed as though He couldn’t wait to provide another victim when the people had just banished or slaughtered one of His servants.

Now comes the part that seems most absurd. The master in the parable has exhausted his corps of messengers. There’s scarcely anyone left to send. Whom can he throw to these wolves now? The cynical answer would be, “Hire someone you got a grudge against and send him!” But there’s another plan. The master has a son, one son. This boy is the joy of his life, the bearer of all his hopes. He loves him as his own life. He decides to send him. Surely, he says to himself, they will reverence my boy.

What’s our reaction to that? How foolish! How naive can you be? Haven’t you learned anything from what’s already happened? Isn’t it enough to lose your faithful servants? Are you going to put your own boy at the mercy of these killers? How will his mother feel about that? But there, he did it, and quite predictably the boy never had a chance. The killers made short work of him.

Is it conceivable, we wonder, that any landlord would act in that way? Of course not! But God did. When we deserved the worst, He gave His best. When the world was ripe for judgment day, God sent Christmas instead. By all human logic, He played the fool, didn’t He? He walked right into it, gave His Son to be crucified, put His heart out there to be broken. Stranger than the wildest fiction, this longsuffering love of God.

THE BELOVED SON

If there’s one more thing to startle us here, it’s the place Jesus gave to Himself in the story. It’s all too plain for anyone to see who the characters represent. The tenants are the chosen people, especially their leaders, those to whom God has entrusted His vineyard. God Himself is the owner. The servant messengers are His prophets. And the only son Jesus talked about, this well-beloved of the father, who can he be? No mystery there either. Jesus is describing Himself.

Can you imagine any man anywhere, anytime, claiming something like that? Among these prophets are men like Moses, Elijah, Isaiah. On any reading they tower as giants among their fellows. They’ve known few peers in the long history of our race. But to Jesus, they are simply among the servants. He alone is the beloved Son.

Would you take something like that seriously if it came from anyone else? Wouldn’t you smile indulgently or dismiss such a claim with contempt? Wouldn’t you write it off as egomania, self-deception, or sheer rubbish? But somehow on the lips of Jesus it rings true. We could never have believed that a life like His were possible if it hadn’t been lived out there in Galilee and Judea. How can such opposites be blended – meekness and majesty, lordship and lowly service, pity and awesome power?

Study the life of Jesus. Watch Him as He walks through every day. Hear the things He said. There’s not a false note anywhere. Can anyone seriously consider that the awesome personage who emerges from the gospels could be deranged or a fraud? Yet hear how He said it straight out: I am the unique Son of the Father whom you are about to reject and crucify.

Why do you suppose Jesus told the parable? You remember the end of the story. The vinedressers are punished, the vineyard turned over to others. The climax is rejection, loss, doom. Why did He tell about that?

It was surely to expose what His enemies were about to do, to lift up the persistent love of God and to reveal Himself as the only Son. But it was never meant to be only a declaration of what is or a prophecy of what would be. Jesus must have told it with anguish, maybe even with tears. It was a wake-up call, an urgent word of warning, a summons to repent.

And why did the gospel writers include it in their narratives? Again, it was not simply to explain what had happened on Golgotha. This became part of the gospel. Even the crucifixion couldn’t destroy that invincible, seeking love of God. Christ is risen. Now in the light of all this, in spite of all this, there is mercy and hope for guilty rebels, for selfish vinedressers, even for those whose sins caused God’s Son to die.

Now listen to the words with which Jesus concluded: “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.” The gospel is a story of rejection, yes, but also of triumph and restoration. God turned the tables. God raised His crucified Son from the dead. Christmas leads on to rejection. Easter spells redemption for the most guilty and rebellious. Christmas is the thrilling reminder that God doesn’t give up on us, that His love comes all the way to meet us. And Easter is the sign that the Lord is among us still, here to claim afresh what rightly belongs to Him. In the light of that triumphant love, I hope that you will never want to reject the Lord again, but rather to say with a grateful faith, “Here, Lord, I give myself away to You. ‘Tis all that I can do. Amen.”

Prayer: Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, rejected for us but now risen from the dead, let everyone sharing this program truly trust in You. Amen.