‘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 watch-tower. 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.
This is the second of Jesus’ parables to address the challenge posed by the chief priests and elders about the source of Jesus’ authority. In the story, the landlord who owns the vineyard does what any absentee landlord would have done and sends his slaves to receive his share of the harvest. When they are attacked by the tenants, he sends more slaves, and these too are killed. You might think he would then send a troop or armed enforcement. But no! He believes that the authority of his son will resolve the situation. When the tenants see the son, they plot for his inheritance and he too is seized and killed.
The chief priests and elders, to whom this story was told, probably saw themselves in the role of the landowner. They would see the servants as their subordinates and themselves as the real victims of the unscrupulous tenants.
We who are Christians, on the other hand, have tended to read the parable with God as the landowner and the temple leaders as the thoroughly evil tenants who are defrauding God of the gift of salvation to his people Israel. We assign the Old Testament prophets as the servants who were put to death and Jesus as the son. Finally, we see ourselves as the new tenants to whom the vineyard -the gift of salvation and life in God’s Kingdom – is given after it has been taken from the Jewish religious leaders who have abused the role entrusted to them.
How easy it is to place ourselves in the role of the new and good tenants working in harmony with the landlord and restoring his fortune. But let us enter into the story more honestly, by facing some questions.
The tenants wanted to keep the harvest to themselves. Where might I have acted out of meanness and greed recently? What have I withheld from God?
The tenants put the innocent servants to death. Where might I have used thoughts, words or actions recently which were underserved and felt like death to someone?
Even the intervention of the son was dishonoured. Where have I dishonoured Jesus recently by not heeding or taking seriously his mediation in my life?
The vineyard is handed over to new tenants who will respect the landowner and give him his share of the harvest. What kind of tenant am I with my life and my gifts? How do I share the fruit of my life?
Take time today to be a generous tenant, offering the fruit of your life, where you can.