Summary: Are we about to reject the Rock of our salvation?
ANOTHER SAD SONG OF THE VINEYARD
The vineyard is a well-known motif for Israel (cf. Isaiah 5:7). We saw it in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), and in the example of the two sons whose father asked them to go and work in his vineyard (Matthew 21:28-32). Jesus begins our present passage, “Hear another parable” (Matthew 21:33) - and starts talking in terms which are strongly reminiscent of Isaiah 5:2.
‘What could have been done more for my vineyard?’ the LORD had asked in Isaiah 5:4. For the LORD ‘looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry’ (Isaiah 5:7). Had Israel forgotten the time when the LORD had heard their own cry, and delivered them from Egypt, and planted them as a vine in the land of promise (Psalm 80:8-10)?
The first thing we might notice about the householder in Jesus’ parable, is that having done all that he could for his vineyard, He “went into a far country” (Matthew 21:33). When it seems to us that God is far off, it is not for us to shirk our duties. The time of harvest must come (Matthew 21:34) - and will we be ready?
The way the householder’s workmen treated his servants is appalling. “They beat one, and killed another, and stoned another” (Matthew 21:35) - and to others likewise (Matthew 21:36). This stands for the reaction of the religious leaders to the prophets of old.
Then their successors, instead of reverencing the Son (Matthew 21:37), sought to wrest the inheritance from His hands (Matthew 21:38). They cast Him out of His own vineyard, and slew Him (Matthew 21:39). They did so ‘by the hands of wicked men’ (Acts 2:23), we are told.
Jesus’ line of questioning (Matthew 21:40) brought the condemnation out of their own mouths (Matthew 21:41). Notice that it is not Jesus who introduced the subject of vengeance on this occasion. It was the chief priests and elders of the people (Matthew 21:23) who suggested that the vineyard be taken from themselves; and given to other, more worthy, custodians.
“Have you ever read this?” (Matthew 21:42), asked Jesus. He quoted Psalm 118:22-23, with possible allusions in Matthew 21:44 to Isaiah 8:13-15, and in Matthew 21:42 to Isaiah 28:16. Were they about to reject the Rock of our salvation?
Then came the punch line, and it came from what they had already said concerning the unworthy keepers of the vineyard. The kingdom of God would be taken from them, and given to a people already bringing forth the fruits thereof (Matthew 21:43). This speaks of God’s new people in Christ (1 Peter 2:6-10): both Jews and Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:21-24).
Sadly the chief priests and the Pharisees - recognising themselves in Jesus’ parables (Matthew 21:45) - failed to take the warning. Their collective conscience was no doubt crying out in the words of Nathan of old: ‘Thou art the man’ (2 Samuel 12:7). Yet they still sought to lay malicious hands on the Son (Matthew 21:46).