Is God Naïve?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“ ‘What will I do?’ the owner asked himself. ‘I know! I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him.’ ”

Luke 20:13

In the days following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was teaching the people in the courts of the temple. Many of the religious leaders listened to what he said, occasionally asking questions in the hope of getting Jesus to say something scandalous or even treasonous. Unlike the Jewish people, who were hanging on Jesus’ every word (19:48), the leaders had set their hearts to reject Jesus and his message.

In response to this hard-hearted reaction, Jesus told a story that reflected poorly on the leaders. The story features a wealthy man who owned a large vineyard. When he became an absentee landlord, a familiar occurrence in the first-century, he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers, who were responsible to farm the land and give the owner a share of the crop. But when he sent a servant to collect his due, the farmers attacked the servant and sent him back empty-handed. Then the owner tried again, with the same result: a battered servant with nothing to give the owner.

At this point in the story, Jesus’ listeners would have anticipated what comes next. The angry owner would execute justice on the farmers, bringing sufficient force to arrest or even kill them. But the owner does not do the expected, logical thing. Rather, he reasons, “I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him” (20:13). At this point, Jesus’ audience would have thought: What? Is he crazy? Doesn’t he know what will happen to his son? Indeed, when the son arrived at the vineyard, the tenant farmers seized their opportunity and killed him. Finally, the owner executed justice upon the disloyal, murderous farmers.

As I consider this story, at first I see myself as one of the tenant farmers. How often, I wonder, have I rejected the messengers God has sent to me? How often have I failed to listen to his Word in Scripture or his guidance delivered through a friend? Yet, as I reflect further, I am stunned by what this parable says about God. The owner seems overly optimistic, even naïve. Didn’t he realize that his son was at risk of losing his life? Didn’t the owner see what would happen?

Is Jesus saying that God is naïve? Hardly. We must always be careful not to over-allegorize the parables of Jesus. Yes, the Father of Jesus did send his beloved Son. And, yes, the Son was killed by those to whom he was sent. But our Heavenly Father was not surprised by this. Indeed, the death of his Son was part of the Father’s plan to save the world, even those of us who are like the tenant farmers. No, God is not naïve. He is supremely, astoundingly gracious.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: As you read this parable, how do you see yourself in the story? How do you understand your Heavenly Father’s decision to send his beloved Son? What difference might this make in your life today?

PRAYER: Father in heaven, I am like the tenant farmers in many ways. You reach out to me with your truth, and I fail to hear it. You send me messengers, but I resolutely hang on to what I value. Indeed, you expect me to give to you what is due from my work, since I am working for you most of all, but I tend to hold back, seeing work as my own domain and what I produce as belonging to me. Forgive me, Lord.

Your forgiveness, offered graciously to me, came at a high cost for you. It cost you the life of your Son. Yet you sent him to earth, not with some naïve belief that he would be accepted, but with full knowledge of how he would be rejected by the leaders and crucified. All of this was part of your gracious plan. How I thank you for being a God of grace and mercy. How I thank you for the gift of your Son. Amen.