Summary: This parable of Jesus tells the story of the world and its rebellion against God. Jesus was also predicting his own death.
Jesus tells this very interesting and provocative story about a landowner and some farmers to whom he rented his land. In Jesus’ story, the landowner does all the work in the beginning. The land is his, and he plants a vineyard. He digs a winepress where the grapes can be trampled and the juice extracted. He builds a wall and a watchtower so the crop will be protected and guarded. Everything is in order for a great crop of grapes. The twist in the story is that the landowner then leases the vineyard out to a group of tenant farmers and goes away. The landowner does not leave because of lack of interest, for the tenants understand that he will return. However, he gives them a great deal of freedom and will not be there to watch over their every move. The farmers are simply to tend to the crop and the land, and when it is time, give him his share of the harvest. It is a simple plan and everyone wins. The landowner gets what belongs to him, and the tenants are provided for and get what they have earned.
But a problem arises when there is a rebellion among the farmers against the landowner. There is no mention that he has treated them unfairly or has wronged them in any way. That is not the issue. The problem is that they get greedy. They no longer want to be the tenants of the vineyard, they want to own it. They want it all — all the crop and all the land as well. So when the landowner sends his servants to collect his rightful share of the fruit, the tenants mistreat and beat the servants, even killing some of them. This happens several times until the landowner finally sends his son, expecting that they will respect him and give the landowner what is his due. But the farmers conspire even against the son. They say to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance. The land and the crops and everything else will be ours.” Then they took him outside the vineyard and killed him.
Let’s look at the parable piece by piece. What Jesus is doing is telling the world’s story and predicting his own death due to the rebellion of God’s creation. God is the landowner. He has made the world and everything in it. He planted all the trees and plants that give us food. He gives the world to us, and makes us his tenants. We are renters, not owners. However, we are provided for very well. But the landowner seems to be away on a journey somewhere. That is to say, God is out of sight. He is still the owner, even though it seems like he is not visibly present. We have been given a good world and a great deal of freedom. The land is fruitful and we are blessed to have been given the privilege of being tenants here. God has been good to us. But a problem has arisen. A rebellion is fomenting among the tenants. We, first of all, want to claim the Master’s land and everything on it as our own, and we want him to stay out of it. We abuse those who come and remind us that this world is not our own. We refuse to recognize God’s ownership of the world. Since the time that he appears to have gone on a journey, we have forgotten him and gotten used to the idea that all of this is ours. And, secondly, we do not want to give to God what rightfully belongs to him. So when God sent the prophets to call the people of the world to recognize God’s ownership and to give him what he is due, we not only became hostile to God, we killed his messengers. As they say, “If you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.” This has happened throughout the history of the world, and is still happening now. In many places of the world today, to preach the good news of Jesus openly is to face the possibility of imprisonment or a death sentence. It you think that is not the case, check the news today about the Iranian pastor Joucef Narkhani who has been condemned to death for converting to Christianity and preaching the Gospel.
But God was serious about having his ownership recognized and acknowledged. In the end, he sent his Son to call the world to acknowledge the kingdom of God and recognize that God is the King of that kingdom. But we hated God, and we hated God’s Son. We treated him worse than the prophets who went before him. We took him outside of the gates of Jerusalem and killed him. If he came today it would be outside the city limits of New York or Columbus. We would kill him all over again if he tried to come and remind us of God’s claim on our lives. We do not want to be accountable to anyone but ourselves. We don’t want someone telling us what to do, or what kind of people we ought to be, even if that Someone is God. As far as we are concerned the world belongs to us, and we convince ourselves that he may not exist after all. Our lives belong to us. We want to be free. In our thinking, to be free means to be free from God and free from rules.