Summary: Tenant Farming is simalar to Share Cropping. the owner gets his first!
When I was a very young man, my family lived and worked on a farm. We were sharecroppers for a while, and I can assure you it is not a life I would recommend to any one. Landowners would find large mostly poor families and hire them as sharecroppers, which meant basically free labor.
Farming in the fifties, when I grew up was not a well paying job.
Sometimes you would work a twelve hour day for three dollars.
You started early in the morning doing your own chores, like milking cows, feeding the hogs, feeding the chickens. Then you would harness the mules and be ready to start plowing as soon as the sun came up. Most farmers did not have tractors for the hired help, only for their own fields. By six o clock in the morning you started working and there were no breaks accept for a drink of water.
At noon you would stop for lunch and then go back to work until six in the evening, and if you were behind you would work until it was to dark to see. This was often seven days a week. At the end of the year you would settle up with the land owner, and after he took off for the expenses for the year, if there was any thing left over, you got half, which most often was very little.
It was good for the landowner but made life hard for a sharecropper and his family, they were almost slaves to the landowner.
Farming has changed a great deal since then, now most labor is done with tractors or harvest machines. People who operate them are paid much better but still it is not a high paying job. Most farms now are a very large operation; some times the farmer is
just a farm manager. The land owner may live in another country.
Most often the farmers lease large pieces or tracts of land and they pay a portion of their crop in exchange for using the land. They are “Tenant Farmers”
Tenant farming is a good way for a farmer to use lots of land for a fair price, and he may make a much better profit at the end of the year.
In our text today we see a landowner that has gone to a lot of expense to build a vineyard and then he leases it to a tenant farmer to operate for him. They make an agreement that is profitable to them both. But the tenant decides he wants it all.
The story that Jesus tells is one that the chief priest and Pharisees would understand easily, for they would be, in some case the judges for a suit brought before them to collect their due by the landowner.
The law then was that if you worked the land and the landowner did not come to collect his share for three years you could go before the judge and claim the land as you own. So it is easy to see why the tenants didn’t want the owner to collect his share, they wanted it all, the crops and the land, then they could lease it to tenants themselves, assuming they wouldn’t have to work any more just collect their rent.
We have such a law today called “Adverse Possession”.
This law says that if you work a piece of land for a certain period of time you can claim it as your own. This can be anything from a fence on someone else’s property, called encroachment, to mowing the grass. The time period can be from one year up to several years. The only hindrance is that it has to be done openly, publicly, for all to see.
So in this case the Tenant Farmers are greedy and wanted it all for themselves, so they beat and stone and even kill one of the servants sent to collect the rent. So the landowner sends more servants, more than the first time, there is safety in numbers, Right?
But the tenants are willing to kill again, and still the owner doesn’t get his share.
So he decides to send his son, surely they will pay him!
But they kill him too!
So Jesus asks the chief Priest and Pharisees how they would judge these tenants if the landowner should bring them before their court.
The landowner has every right to kill the tenants according the Jewish law and they say as much when they say the owner will deal harshly with them, and then lease to tenants who will give him his share.
Let’s listen to what Jesus was saying to the Priest and Pharisees in plain English, if you will. And we should also realize that what he said applies to us as well. We don’t think of our selves as priest and Pharisees, but we are. The parallel to those then and us now simply cannot be ignored.