The Substitute. Is the Cat Really Away? Luke 20:9-18

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And he (Jesus) began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast 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 said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And 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, “Surely not!”  But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’? (Psalm 118:22) 

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Luke 20:9-18 (ESV)

There is a saying about the human condition – “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” A good example of this can be seen when a class of young students is left with a substitute in charge who isn’t aware of, or doesn’t have the fortitude to enforce the regular teacher’s rules.  Chaos often ensues, because some children see the absence of the regular teacher as an absence of rules and leadership.  The substitute just doesn’t radiate the same authority or carry the same gravitas.

Who are we, and how do we act when we think nobody’s watching?

In Jesus’ parable, the tenants really didn’t care what the owner’s servants were trying to accomplish. They were just hired hands after all- substitutes- and the tenants knew that the servants didn’t carry any real authority to carry out any sanctions against them.  So they were just going to do what they wanted, because they were confident they could get away with it.

The tenants didn’t take the owner’s son very seriously either. In fact, they took the opportunity to do away with the son so they could take the vineyards as their own.

We can see some of the parallels of Jesus’ example today. Many people in today’s world do not acknowledge the existence of God, or believe that He is involved in the world and in individual lives. The “cat’s away” mentality among many people has led to widespread lawlessness and an increase of evil in the world.  Those without faith and trust in God are like the tenants who behave as if the owner doesn’t care what we do, or that the owner of the vineyard is powerless to do anything about our misbehavior.

Jesus makes it clear that even though the authorities of the world rejected Him and even put Him to death, that He is the foundation- the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To reject Him is to reject the life of the vineyard, to be banished and separated from God.

The way of the cross will break us- when by the grace of God we fall upon that Cornerstone we are broken, but broken in good ways. Our pride will be shattered. Our hearts of stone are replaced by soft hearts of flesh that God can use to His glory.  The haughty smirks are wiped off our faces. We fall to our knees and pray as the tax collector prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  We remember that in our baptisms we are daily washed in water and the Word.

The “cat” is not away.  Someone is watching, whether we acknowledge Him or not.  Someone who bled and died at Calvary to take away our sins and the sins of the world is involved in every detail of our lives. For the sake of Christ and of God’s kingdom, how we live and the witness we have in the world matters.

We still live in the now, but not yet, world. We are both saints and sinners, but we should not be living like elementary school kids looking to get as much mischief in as possible while there’s a substitute teacher.  We are called to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, because He is not away.  He is with us.

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