“Rejection Therapy”

Kurt Jacobson
7 min readOct 8, 2023

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October 8, 2023

Matthew 21:33–46

‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So, they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”? Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. ***

Jia Jiang at age 30 was a marketing manager for a company, but he was not going anywhere. Jia felt stuck and stagnant. He decided it was time to start his own company, but he was rejected by an investment opportunity. He wanted to quit because the rejection hurt so much. “But then I thought, hey, would Bill Gates quit after a simple investment rejection?” He knew he could not let this stop him, so he began looking for help.

Jia googled “How do I overcome the fear of rejection?” and found “a bunch of ‘rah-rah’ inspirational articles saying, ‘Don’t take it personally, just overcome it.’ Who doesn’t know that?” he said.

Then he found the website rejectiontherapy.com. Founded by Canadian entrepreneur Jason Comely who knew the stings and slights of rejection are universal for people, he set out to prove that with conscious intent rejection can be turned into enterprise.

Comely designed a game which involved going out and looking for rejection and being rejected every day for 30 days so that by the conclusion you have desensitized yourself from the pain of it.

Jia took up the game. At the start, he asked a stranger if he could borrow one hundred dollars. He requested a “burger refill” at a restaurant. He asked a stranger if he could dig a flowering plant in her yard. To Jia’s surprise, he discovered that each day he participated in this experiment, asking got easier, and the pain of rejection diminished. [1]

Today, Jia owns Rejection Therapy and offers “Rejection Therapy Camps” focusing on rejection in sales, job searches and love.

Rejection is a theme in this reading today. Pointedly aiming at the religious authority of the temple, the chief priests and scribes, Jesus says to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Like all of the stories Jesus tells, having context is important for understanding.

Just days before this encounter, Jesus has come into Jerusalem for Passover. Arriving at the temple, he is irate at the corruption he discovers. Angrily, he throws out the merchants and the moneychangers, turning over their tables in dramatic fashion. Meanwhile, he knows the religious leaders are working to find a way to get rid of him.

In response to this, Jesus tells a series of three stories. This passage is the second.

Jesus says there was a landowner who planted a vineyard and then went to another country, leaving tenant farmers to tend the vineyard and gather the harvest. The time comes for the owner to collect the harvest. He sends a servant to collect, and the tenants beat him. Trying again, the owner sends another servant who is killed, then another who is stoned.

At this point in the story, the chief priests and elders would have been amazed at what they were hearing about the landowner, thinking “One rejection of the servant would have led other landowners to kick the tenants off the land.”

But not this landowner!

This landowner is forgiving and very persistent. He sends one more servant, his own son, despite all the earlier rejection, showing the extent of mercy the landowner is willing to give to the tenants.

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So, they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Next Jesus asks the chief priests and scribes: “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’”

Jesus has the chief priests and scribes right he wants them to be. Then he hits them between the eyes and compares them to the tenants.

In so many words, Jesus says to them, you have rejected me by rejecting those who I care about. You have not taken care of the poor and marginalized. Instead, you have insured hardship for people who come to the temple to pray. What was created to be a house of worship you have turned into a business mall. You have preyed upon faithful people coming for Passover who are unable to bring any sacrificial animals, so you sell to them at unreasonable prices. Then, your moneychangers convert their currencies into the accepted currency for paying the exorbitant temple taxes, which have not gone to help those in need, but have instead gone into your pockets.

We expect Jesus to shout “Shame! Away with you and all your religious corruption.” But instead, he uses the scripture these guys knew well, saying: ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”? The temple leaders are also the ones who have rejected the cornerstone, which in this case is also Jesus.

Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.

Contrary to a reasonable response to all the corruption, Jesus gives the temple leadership a shot at redemption. As is often the case, Jesus does not come right out and say what the temple leadership has to do to find redemption. Instead, he says more about that cornerstone they have rejected. “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

Being broken into pieces and crushed certainly does not sound redemptive. And yet, as it turns out, it is in this very stone that we can find redemption.

Preaching professor Marvin McMickle writes, “When we turn to that stone that the builders have rejected, it will break us down too — but only so that it can build us back up again. The stone will take away our pride and prejudice, our sin and selfishness, our greed and guilt. Once we have been broken down, the stone begins to build our lives upon a strong spiritual foundation.” [2]

In the movie Hoosiers, Gene Hackman plays coach Norman Dale, a man very much in need of redemption. Dale finds himself in Indiana coaching high-school basketball after having coached a college team. That career ended when he was banned after physically assaulting his own player after a game.

Coach Dale is asked what he thinks about his new high school team. “There is a lot of talent on the team, but it is raw and undisciplined.” When asked what he plans to do about that, he says that he is going to break his team down and build them back up.

And this is exactly what coach Dale does. He gets his team to focus first on the basics of basketball. Instead of having them scrimmage against each other in practice, he has them practice passing, ball handling, and defense. Coach Dale knows that if his team is going to be successful, they have to have a good foundation to build on as they move forward with the season.

This passage is not a favorite for anyone I know, perhaps because we know we are the tenants and we have failed. Using Jesus’ metaphor, he takes his listeners back to the basics of what following him involves, reminding us that we are entrusted with stewarding the harvest and respecting the vineyard, its produce, its owner, the other tenants and those whom the owner sends to carry-out the owner’s will.

The good news is that through Jesus, we see that God continually makes room for redemption, even for wicked tenants and corrupt religious leaders. Each day, there is an opportunity to cultivate the fruits of justice and righteousness. And this pursuit begins by seeking connection with those we have been called to serve, those on the margins, those who have been rejected. Only then can we begin that long, slow journey from rejection to connection.

[1] Jia Jiang, “What I Learned From 100 Days of Rejection,” YouTube ted.com/talks.

[2] Marvin A. McMickle, “Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4” edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 145.

Images:

Vineyards at Auvers by Van Gough

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.