Cultivator or Consumer

It is possible that some believers in Christ may want to receive all of the blessings of grace from God but care little about carrying on that ministry of reconciliation towards others. While this may be the desire of some, the New Testament does not say this is an option for those who are in Christ. A.W. Tozer says, “Erroneously, many are taught and believe that the Christian life is a free ride that eventually ends in heaven.”[1] What Tozer is essentially saying is that grace is free, but it is always costly. Once you have received grace, you are called to be an agent, or ambassador, of grace. Any amount of inaction is actually working against what God is trying to accomplish in the world. Simply put, there is work to be done for the believer in Christ.

So, what happens to the believer who wants to receive the blessing of grace but not participate in the work of redemption in the world? In many ways Jesus addresses this very question in a parable in Matthew 21:33-44. This is a parable about a vineyard, and vineyards had long been a metaphor for Israel, God’s people. Isaiah 5:7 says, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel.” This is a parable about God’s people and their stewardship of what He has entrusted to them. In this parable, a wealthy landowner goes away on a long vacation and leaves some farmers in charge of his property while he is gone. He entrusts his vineyard to others and compliments them with his trust that they will get the job done. But the farmers did not do what was asked of them and became people more focused on what they could get from the wealthy landowner.

It doesn’t take long to see that the farmers, or “cultivators,” were actively working against the landowner. The vineyard was equipped with everything the workers needed to accomplish the job, but when harvest time came for the landowner to collect his fruit, the farmers were violent towards the landowner’s messengers. In many ways this is true of our work of reconciliation given to us. If we are not doing what we have been entrusted to accomplish, we are actually working against God. Abraham Joshua Heschel says, “The world is torn by conflicts, by folly, by hatred. Our task is to cleanse, to illumine, to repair. Every deed is either a clash or an aid in the effort of redemption.”[2] What Heschel is saying is you are either working with or against God’s redemption efforts in the world.

Why were the farmers so violent towards the landowner’s messengers? The parable tells us that they were all about what they could get from the landowner. After the landowner sent messengers and the farmers killed all of them, the landowner decides to send his own flesh and blood to hopefully get their attention. But this does not work. When the landowner’s son comes with the message, they kill him too. Why? The text says it was so they could receive his inheritance.[3] They wanted more from the landowner than they had already been given.

Jesus asks the question, “What will happen to these farmers who refused to participate in the work given to them?” The answer is found in Matthew 21:43 when Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” Jesus bluntly says He will give the work to someone else who will accomplish His purpose of redemption in the world. The farmers are expendable in this story. But make no mistake, we will have to answer, in the end, for, why we did not do what was entrusted to us, especially when we have been given so much. If you have any power, any voice or influence, any energy or resource, you are called to use it to bless others who have no power, energy, voice, or resources.[4] Ultimately, this parable tells us about the privilege that we have as ministers of the new covenant while we are on earth.

God has trusted us with His work and gives us the freedom to choose to do the work of redemption or not. William Barclay says, “God is no tyrannical taskmaster; he is like a wise leader who allocates tasks and then trusts people to do them.”[5] In the same way the owner gives these farmers the responsibility of caring after this vineyard, there are several tasks God gives us today. These tasks are actually a privilege, not a burden, if you pause to think about it.[6] God allows us to take part in what He is doing. The more we recognize the grace we have received, the more we are willing to share it with others. He doesn’t need us, but He invites us to participate in His work of redemption.

[1] Tozer, A.W. The Crucified Life: How to Live Out a Deeper Christian Experience. (Regal: Ventura, CA, 2011). Pg. 24.
  Heschel, Abraham Joshua. God In Search Of Man. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, NY, 1955). Pg. 357.
Matthew 21:38-39
Bell, Rob and Golden, Don. Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2008). Pg. 174-175.
Barclay, William. The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2. (Westminster John Knox Press: Lousiville, KY, 2001). Pg. 307.
This thought was primarily taken from a sermon by Landon Collins on this same passage.

1 thought on “Cultivator or Consumer”

  1. Why is it that we have become content to sit back and watch G-d work? Why aren’t we excited about the invitation to become involved in what G-d is doing? Why do we feel that obedience is unnecessary? I believe that it is in the spirit of the words of Jesus, “Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”. Matthew 22:29. Let’s be honest, how many of us read our bible every day? How many of us memorize out of it daily? How many of us understand that for Jesus to have been recognized as a rabbi, he would have had to have memorized the whole Old testament? We seem content to believe what people have told us, rather than wrestle with the words of G-d. So we believe we are saved by grace, the bible says so. This is absolutely true, this does not however mean we have no part in the works of G-d. The duality of G-d is, by it’s very nature, difficult to understand. Why does the prince of peace come to bring a sword? How is weakness our greatest strength? Why does Jesus call us to full obedience if we are saved by grace? I believe that Herbert Braun correctly says, when talking about mark 10:17-31, “The disciple is inescapably summoned to a total commitment–that is precisely the sense in the context–and yet acceptance at the last judgement, true success, is a pure gift”. Our obedience should flow freely out of the grace we have received so that we may become messengers of grace to the world, witnesses if you will. Isaiah 43:11-12 says- “I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed– I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God.” We are to be witnesses of his grace. Heschel says, “If there are no witnesses, there is no God. There is mystery, an enigma, a darkness past finding out. For God to be present, there must be witnesses.” We are witnesses to the unexplainable gift of grace, in which we are not assigned an answer to the question, but an imperative to act. This we see in the parable of the good samaritan when Jesus who was the man’s neighbor, “the one who had mercy on him.” was the reply and Jesus commands, “Go and do likewise.” For me this saying goes for what it means to follow Jesus. Study intently what Jesus does, and go and do likewise.

    1 Herbert Braun- Jesus of Nazareth The Man And His Time pg. 106
    2 Abraham Joshua Heschel- Israel: An Echo of Eternity pg. 45

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