Reading Time: 8 Minutes
Once again, this section is narrated by an imaginary person who has traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem from Galilee.
Jesus seemed to take a break to let the last parable sink in. I heard the chief priests and elders murmuring against him. As for me, I was shaken by what I had seen over the last 24 hours. We all had entered Jerusalem with such joy when Jesus came into the city, only to be shocked by what we started calling “the cleansing of the Temple.” On our way back to Jerusalem this morning, Jesus caused a fig tree to wither and die right before our eyes. Now, he is in the midst of a very heated confrontation with the leaders of our nation.
I had to end my ruminations, because Jesus began speaking again.
He said, “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.”
While Jesus was speaking I thought to myself, “I wonder if he is going to use Isaiah’s famous vineyard story. After all, our nation’s leaders resemble the bad fruit that Isaiah pictured.”
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down. (Isaiah 5.3-5)
Even though Jesus had me thinking about judgment on our country, which was often compared to God’s vineyard, his parable took a different turn.
He said, “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.”
While Jesus was talking, I looked over at the “big shots” among the religious authorities. They were some of them, who had enough money to own vineyards in the country. I wondered what they were thinking. My family actually worked in a vineyard of a rich landowner in Galilee.
Jesus continued speaking and said, “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.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
Oh my, I wasn’t expecting that. I have heard rumors that the religious establishment has been planning on ways to kill Jesus. I’ve even heard Jesus predict that he will die in Jerusalem – on a cross no less. My heart was deeply troubled to think that this may be true. I whispered under my breath, “Be careful, Jesus.”
But Jesus wasn’t careful. He continued speaking, while the authorities seemed to get angrier by the moment.
He said, “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
A few people in the crowd shouted out, “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 responded to their shouts and said, “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’?
Of course, we knew this scripture. We knew it came from Psalm 118, but we weren’t ready for how Jesus applied the psalm to the parable he had just spoken.
He said, “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.”
A large crowd had gathered to hear Jesus teach and to see what Jesus would say to the chief priests and elders. There were quiet mutterings throughout the crowd as people tried to digest just what Jesus had said.
I heard someone near me say, “Did he just tell us that he is the Son of God?”
I picked up another snatch of a conversation, “Is he predicting that he will be rejected and put to death?” they said.
I said to one of my friends from Galilee, “Surely, God’s kingdom won’t be taken away from us. We are doing all we can to live the kind of life that Jesus teaches.”
It was pretty clear that the religious leaders were angry beyond words. They knew that much of the parable was aimed right at them. I knew that they would have loved to arrest Jesus, but the large crowd really seemed to be squarely on Jesus’ side. (Matthew 21.33-46).
The parable Jesus told is rich with images from the prophets and Psalms. It does bring to mind the famous parable of Isaiah 5.1-5.
It also alludes to God’s word to Jeremiah where he says, “From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did” (Jeremiah 7.25-26).
There have been many references in blog articles to Daniel 7, especially as it applies to the title, Son of Man. As you read another verse from Daniel 7, notice that the people who receive the kingdom are those who are “the holy ones of the Most High.” People who live a Jesus-kind-of-life fit that description.
“The kingship and dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.” (Daniel 7.27)
No where in this parable is the nation of Israel rejected. The people who resist and reject Jesus are rejected, but those who embrace a life with Jesus are part of the new kingdom that Jesus initiated in his death and resurrection.
As I pray through this passage, there are a few themes that catch my attention. I hope you will prayerfully consider Jesus’ parable and apply it to your life.
(1) Belief and action go together – The religious leaders were tragically inconsistent. They had heads full of knowledge about God, but lives that were spiritually impoverished. Their self-centered and self-serving lifestyles revealed that they were mere play-actors (hypocrites).
In the previous parable Jesus stated that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom of God ahead of the religious elite (Matthew 21.31-32). Once they had repented, their behavior matched their belief and talk.
I have the honor of serving Jesus with many men and women who have past lives of addiction, crime, and trauma. I praise God for their willingness to serve Jesus and their enthusiasm for a life with him. They encourage me, a religious professional, to make sure that my walk matches my talk.
(2) Leadership is crucial – Jesus aimed his parables in Matthew 21 against the religious establishment. Someone said, “If are a leader and no one is following you, then you are just taking a walk.”
What is sad is that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did have followers. They followed their leaders to the court of Pilate and called for Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27.22-23).
I believe that Jerusalem was filled with people like the imaginary narrator of this account, who were committed to following Jesus. They were influenced by his leadership and continued faithful in the face of the tragic events of his crucifixion.
Jesus is the ultimate leader. We must look to him and seek to conform our lives to his message and example. Human leaders will always be suspect to failure.
Dear Jesus, please help us examine our lives in the light of this parable. Please help us desire above all things to live our lives like you taught and lived.