Day 184: Matthew 21:33-40

Listen to another parable. There was once a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the wine press, and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to tenants and left home on a trip.

When the time came to gather the grapes, he sent his slaves to the tenants to receive his share of the harvest. The tenants grabbed his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again the man sent other slaves, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all he sent his son to them. ‘Surely they will respect my son,’ he said.

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the owner’s son. Come on, let’s kill him, and we will get his property!’ So they grabbed 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?

The chief priests and elders asked Jesus who gave him the authority to do the things that he does.  He responds with a trick question about John the Baptist. Then he shares “The Parable of the Two Sons” (Day 183) followed by today’s “Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard,” which is actually a prophecy presented in the form of a parable.

In “The Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard” a man builds a vineyard which he then entrusts to some tenants.  At harvest time he sends his slaves to collect his rightful share of the harvest.  The greedy tenants want all the grapes for themselves to they kill the slaves.  The man then sends his own son, and the tenants kill him as well in an attempt to steal the vineyard.  The only problem is that the rightful owner of the vineyard will ultimately return and reclaim his property.  And common sense says he’s not going to be happy about these dastardly tenants and the hot mess they have created.

  • Landowner is God.
  • Vineyard is the world.
  • Grapes are the people.
  • Harvest is a time the fulfillment of God’s intent for the restoration of the people to one another and to God.
  • Tenants are the religious authorities – priests, elders, teachers, Pharisees, etc.
  • Slaves are the prophets.
  • The son is Jesus.

So, here is my interpretation of the story.  God created the world and entrusted the care of it to the Jews (his chosen people) and their religious leaders.  At various times he sent prophets to speak for him and implement the changes that need to be made for the benefit of mankind so that they might grow closer to God and to one another.  However the religious leaders wanted to do things their own way and keep the people under their own control so they rejected the teachings of the prophets and treated them poorly.  God then sent Jesus, his son, to reclaim Israel’s outcasts – but they decided to kill him because he was a threat to their religious institution.  The parable ends with the question, “How will this be received by God?”  Just as the tenants would undoubtedly be evicted from the vineyard by the owner, so the Temple and the legalistic sacrificial system will be take away from the Jews.  Jesus is gently starting to break the news to those assembled that God is going to shut it all down.

It’s a great parable about the dark side of humanity – murder, violence, greed, entitlement, arrogance, and much more.  It is also a parable that reveals how Jesus perceives his upcoming death.  There is nothing in this parable that implies that Jesus is choosing to willingly “die for our sins.”  In fact, nowhere does he ever say that he dies to satisfy the penalty for the sins of all humanity.  That concept was introduced later in the New Testament to help people feel better about the cessation of Temple sacrifices. No, Jesus says he will be killed – he will be wrongfully, maliciously murdered – by those who want to steal the Kingdom of God away from the King.  He will be killed because the religious and political leaders of his day were murderous and sinful. And we still kill each other today because we are still sinful.  And we still suffer the penalties.

I think that to say that Jesus “died” is to be in denial about the atrocity that humanity committed when we killed him.  To say that he “had to die” is just a convenient way of avoiding the truth about the ugly, abhorrent, savage side of human nature. On Day 104 Jesus says, “From the time John preached his message until this very day the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violent attacks, and violent men try to seize it.  Jesus didn’t die to appease an angry God.  Jesus never said that God was disgusted with humanity.  Jesus said that God was our good and gracious Father.  Jesus believed in the goodness of ordinary people and had confidence in their ability to preach, teach, and heal the world.

I believe that Jesus was killed because people didn’t like him and what he had to say, just as many of God’s prophets had been killed and persecuted throughout history.  The religious establishment felt that Jesus was a threat to their established religion and social order.  Jesus didn’t die because God was mad at us; he was killed because men were mad at God.  They didn’t want to accept God’s truth.  That’s my opinion anyway based on what he has to say.  He says that violent men are trying to seize the Kingdom.  He repeatedly says, “I will be killed.”  By men, not God.  Because of their lust for power and money.  And to prop up their man-made religion.  There was no justification for the murder of the son in this parable, and there is no justification for the murder of Jesus.  To kill someone who is without blame is against God’s law.  God would not violate his own law by causing or encouraging humanity to kill his blameless son to satisfy his own blood lust.  That makes no sense.  Not to me, anyway.  No sense at all.

Jesus ends the parable by asking what will happen when the owner returns to his vineyard and finds that his son has been killed.  When John the Baptist was murdered there were no real repercussions.  Not even a ripple.  King Herod went on his merry way, the religious authorities ignored it completely, and his followers seemed to accept it with passive resignation.   In this parable Jesus implies that when they kill him, as he has been predicting for quite some time, there will indeed be repercussions.  And this prophecy is ultimately fulfilled after Jesus’ death.  The beloved Temple will be destroyed and the Jews are forced to abandon their cherished sacrificial system.  Yes, God ultimately throws out the tenants and reclaims his vineyard.

What does this scripture say to you?

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