Rejection may not be a pretty concept. But it is part of the story. Our story as Christians is one that takes a dark turn – a very dark turn.
After Jesus cleanses the temple and throws out the moneychangers, things change. Jesus goes on the offense. Jesus’ adversaries also ramp it up, asking insincere questions in the hope of trapping him or simple ridiculing him.
Jesus fires back with the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. A man plants a vineyard and then leases it to tenants and leaves the country. After a long time, he sends a slave to get a share of the produce (in our language, he goes to collect rent). They beat him and throw him out empty-handed. This happens again and again, until finally the owner sends his son. They threw him out and killed him.
Then Jesus turns to the crowd and quotes a psalm, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” As soon as he does this, things change. This is no longer a cute little story about “being a better person”. Jesus is fighting back, with words.
I often warn people not to analyze parables through analogy, simply assigning parts to this, that, or the other character in the story. This may be one of those exceptions. While he may not be making allusions to his crucifixion and death, he is clearly speaking of the division between the people and those who have been in charge for some time.
It is difficult not to see that the slaves that were beaten and thrown out are very much like the prophet and apostles. They came with authority but were rejected by those in charge. No one followed their advice, and they paid the price. Then along comes the owner’s son, and they kill him.
If you thought Jesus came to be meek and mild, you are in for a rude awakening. He came for a fight.
Jesus is ready for the rejection. He knows the people are plotting against him. He also doesn’t seem all that worried. I mean, at the end of the day, what is really going on? He is still teaching by parable, just as he had been. His tone may have changed, but no one is going to derail that which he came to do.
Of course, he came not only to teach, but to offer his life for the salvation of many. This is what is often lost on many of my liberal friends. It is not just a cute story about a good teacher. He came to fulfill that psalm he quoted. He came to be the cornerstone. He came to die.
It is gruesome. It is disarming. It is bizarre, to say the least. He came, not simply to identify with the beaten down of society and walk with them in their pain, but to captivate the whole world, and transform their pain into victory – to lift up the brokenhearted, to bless those who have no power and give them all the power, to side with those who have been rejected like him and give them the power instead. This is where the conservatives start to get nervous. For when you really come to understand the story you realize it is not just a cute, little story of a personal savior, but a radical story of love that transforms the entire world and the way it works.
For all the stumbling and judgment that he speaks of, the grace of God shines through. We who stand on the other side of the resurrection know how this story ends. We do not end in fear or rejection, but in a place of comfort and plenty.
What I gather from this parable is Jesus saying to me, “Keep on keepin’ on.” My job is to move forward into God’s grace. Amidst the struggle and pain of this life, I am not called to be consumed by it, but to be transformed by the love of God in Christ, and to allow that to be my guide.