This week we are examining what many consider to be a very complicated parable: the parable of the wicked tenants. This is a parable about Israel. It goes along with similar themes to the parable of the two sons and the parables of the wedding banquet and feast
A mother ran into the bedroom when she heard her seven-year-old son scream. She found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl’s grip and said comfortingly to the boy, "There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t know that hurts." He nodded his acknowledgement, and she left the room.
As she started down the hall the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, "What happened?"
The little boy replied, "She knows now."
The parable of the landowner and the wicked tenants continues the theme of Jesus’ conversation with the rich young man. “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16) is a notion that challenged the general religious economy of Jesus’ era and continues to challenge that of our own time. The parable points a finger at the religious elite of Jerusalem. As the story unfolds, the Pharisees know that Jesus is speaking about the unfaithful history of Israel, Israel who refused the witness of prophets, Israel who killed God’s messengers, and now deny the witness of Jesus, whom some have called the Messiah. Now do not get me wrong this is not Israel the nation so much as Israel influenced by a corrupt leadership.
The heart of the parable is the wicked and violent way that stewards of the law and the temple have failed through the centuries to acknowledge God’s clear message of justice and righteousness. Now the Son has come to give a clear message, and the attitude is still the same. These men of power will not stand much longer for this kind of teaching.
As with many parables, Jesus uses symbols in his stories that give a deeper meaning. This is where we need to be careful because not all things have deeper meanings. Sometimes a field is really just a field. But here we can deduce some likely meanings.
• The vineyard is Jerusalem
I say likely here because sometimes these things are debated. Here some say that the vineyard is all of Israel. I do not believe that this represents all of Israel because it is narrative it is indicative of Jerusalem. Jesus paints the picture of a wall, a watch tower and a winepress. This combination most likely would have pointed to Jerusalem. The wall around Jerusalem, the watch tower would be the temple who was supposed to keep watch over the spiritual life of the people. The winepress would also point to the Temple but specifically the Temple authorities who were supposed to take care of the people especially the poor financially but Jesus is indicating that they had misappropriated the finances. No wonder the religious rulers were so upset.
Besides, the placement of this parable, in relation to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and arrival at the temple makes it very clear who Jesus is accusing.
• The servants are the prophets
These are the OT prophets many of whom were beaten and killed as God’s messengers. God sent them to all of Israel and to Jerusalem many, many times.
• The son is Jesus
In the parable the son is taken outside the vineyard then killed. Jesus would be very shortly taken outside the city walls and crucified. He was taken outside so that the city and the Temple would not be ritually defiled.
• The tenants are Israelite leaders
Not just one generation but in general all of Israelite leaders over the course of its history. I know that it can be especially tempting to continue allegorizing everything in this parable. However, other than these items, there is no clear indication that Jesus intended for his hearers to do so.
The inheritance is a deeper relationship with God the creator. The fruit is the abundance of a growing community here on earth.. Then there are more generalized interpretations as in the message of the kindom and the productive living that follows. Specifics are not given by Jesus here about what entails productive living nor does Jesus give details on what the judgment looks like other than the wicked tenants will meet their deserved end.
So what message is Jesus trying to give through this parable? It is really very simple for those who have ears to hear. The parable is a proclamation concerning the world to come, and Israel’s part in this present, but not yet realized world to come.
*The stewardship of this heavenly kindom will be taken away and given to a new people; taken away from the hypocritical judicial leaders of Israel’s history.
God’s intention all along is that God has a people who are God’s own. This new people will not be based on birth or race or religious standing or economic standing or even social standing. It is twofold.
• This new people are all those who respond to the fullness of God’s message for them and then bear fruit.
Both parts are essential: Responding to the message of the all loving God given by Jesus and by bearing fruit through productive living. This living is based on the ways of God and the teachings of Jesus. Productive living may not necessarily mean being a good citizen, being a good citizen is just enough but God and Christ has called us to more than that. It may not even mean being affluent economically. In fact, it probably means you will not be affluent.
• Blessings and gifts are not permanent possessions.
It is so easy to get caught in false sense of security. The only security is through the continuing love relationship with Jesus, walking humbly as is taught through the Gospels. Degrees, promotions, bible studies, number of worship services, number of prayers and prayer meetings, number of meals served to the homeless are all great things and often beneficial to our own spiritual growth. However, they do not provide security, the security; that I am what I need to be. They should flow out of where we are at but they also need to flow out of a sense of calling and spiritual walk with God.
The only assurance that God is with us is by intentionally setting our hearts on God. God’s favor and blessings are not permanent. Jesus is giving Israel and us the warning that fulfilling religious responsibilities is not enough. He warns us that we may get to the end and find that we are spiritually bankrupt because we have been denouncing, ridiculing, degrading, and ignoring the very messengers that God has been sending us.
There is no guarantee except what comes through the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit. That is your security deposit. And that is not something that you give but receive and continue to be filled with.
• God does the unexpected.
Probably of all the things that God may be saying to us today through this parable is that God does the unexpected, the unexpected grace and love that is shown by those that love God and God’s ways. The unexpected provision that God gives sometimes before we realized we even had a need, the unexpected lesson that Jesus teaches us when we are wrapped up in ourselves and so self-absorbed.
Jesus gives us a proverb or saying at the end of this parable. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed. When we fall down in complete and utter abandonment to Jesus who is the cornerstone, we may be broken but we are never crushed. However, those who ignore the messenger or even persecute God’s agents will eventually be crushed no matter what ancestors that they may claim or how long one has been in church or who your parents are.
The amazing thing is that when we are broken before God, Jesus takes the broken pieces of our lives and unexpectedly transforms what many people in the world might cast out as trash and creates a thing of beauty that allows the light of the spirit to shine through. Let me say that again; Jesus takes the broken pieces of our lives and unexpectedly transforms what many people in the world might cast out as trash and creates a thing of beauty that allows the light of the spirit to shine through.
The message is plain but not easy. Are you certain of your walk with God? Are sure that you are walking with Jesus? Do you love God and God’s ways more than anything else? Have you responded by living a life of abundant fruit? If not, what blessings that you have will be given to others. There are no barriers here today. The only barrier is the one inside of you. Consecrate yourself to respond to the messenger, Jesus, and live his abundant life giving him the glory. Don’t let yourself be deceived as many in Israel were; deceived by pride and deceived by arrogance. Humble yourself before God or you will be humiliated. Take the time to strengthen yourself for your daily journey by stepping out with Christ.
This means seeking opportunity to enrich your spiritual life. You may try Journaling as prayer, walking meditation, the Jesus prayer, which is Lord Jesus Christ; have mercy on me repeated over and over till it is constant on your heart, or perhaps the daily offices or book of Christian prayer. You need to find what feeds you, what will keep your heart open to the beauty and the wonder that is God’s spiritual invitation to walk with Jesus daily. Then act upon it. Then the fruit of the vineyard will be abundant and when the Owner comes to collect you will rejoice as will God in the abundant life you have lived. Amen.