He began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, “This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.” So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When they heard this, they said, ‘Heaven forbid!’ But he looked at them and said, ‘What then does this text mean: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’ When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.
Frank Sinatra is one of the 20th Century’s most celebrated artists. Famously, Sinatra popularised the song “My Way” in 1969 which became an anthem for individualism in Western culture:
I’ve lived a life that’s full I’ve traveled each and every highway And more, much more than this I did it my way
This is a song for the road, seemingly inverting Jesus’ own journey metaphors, asserting the individual’s right to self-determination and choice.
Today we find Jesus crashing into such mind-sets. Individual autonomy is nothing new, and we meet Jesus clashing with a group of religious heavies who believe in the right to flex their spiritual muscles as they see fit.
Jesus’ defense is rooted in his identity as the Son of God, the culmination in a series of prophets God had sent to call the tenants of Israel to account.
The Temple leaders tried to trap Jesus, demonstrating their belief that they would have the last word. Jesus’ response – that he is the “cornerstone” which held the ultimate authority – confounded them to plot a murderous response.
Likewise, we too can mistakenly fall into the fallacy that we have the last word. We desire to go our own way in life. A misinformed response could warp the pilgrim life – the road that Jesus calls us to. It’s a journey of tough adventure, but one where we are seeking to follow Him. When we start asserting our own rights, we risk going off route.
We are invited to travel with Jesus, being comforted and guided by the Prince of Peace. He has the ability to up-end any life which asserts the right of individual autonomy. In love, he invites us to take the pilgrim which celebrates journeying in companionship with fellow pilgrims.
O God, may we remember that we do not have the last word in our affairs. May we be mindful of the friends and family who journey with us. May your peace ravel with us. Amen.
Daniel Harris is an ordinand at Westminster College and Student Minister at St Neots URC