William Tyndale knew that the ‘word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow.’ Knowing that the sword had grown blunt, he sharpened it by translating it. What he could not know was the cost to him, but it would have made no difference if he had known. He didn’t have a martyr complex; just a single-minded, stubborn, one-way commitment to his Saviour and Lord. And what a gift to us that has been!
The fact that today’s parable makes uncomfortable reading seems fitting memorial to him somehow. Tyndale followed his Saviour to the stake, and Jesus told this parable inside Jerusalem, his journey nearly ended, his options narrowed to one, the way of the cross. The parable is prophecy, warning and invitation. Unusually, Jesus is the subject of his own parable and prophesies the son’s death. The owner’s son, God’s son. It is warning, because the vineyard will be reclaimed by the owner, God. Woe betide any who stand in the way. Woe betide us too: being children of the new covenant is no guarantee of God’s blessing. Only faithfulness is.
And it is invitation even to his persecutors, to revisit the vineyard, God’s kingdom, so that the story might be told differently. Even at this late stage Jesus is not just condemning his opponents out of hand. There is another way, he says, the way of discipleship. Instead of killing the son, might not one – just one – of his detractors turn, and respect the son?
We know the end of the story, but we do not know if any turned at the end, at least none of the chief priests, scribes and elders. Are we then told the story that we might point the figure at them in condemnation alongside Jesus? No, but we are told it that we may not be found wanting, included in the condemnation. Our calling is to respect – or fear [Tyndale’s word] the Son, whose Word we hear today in English thanks in part to William Tyndale, and it will cost us dear. It will cost us our lives.