Summary: The Biblical metaphor of Jesus being the cornerstone which the builders rejected conveys the understanding that without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5).
THE WICKED TENANTS
Text: Matthew 21:33-46
In modern day, we tend to think of a cornerstone as a stone that is inscribed and placed in the corner of the foundation of a building that marks the beginning of the building. The way that the Bible uses the word cornerstone means much more than a stone with an inscription that tells when the building started. The cornerstone used to be the most important part of the building because the rest of the building depended on it. (Elmer L. Towns. The Names Of Jesus. Denver: Accent Publications, 1987, p. 126). It was the most crucial part of the foundation. Unlike the pattern in modern day, we tend to see a "decorated marble slab that is affixed to a completed building" (p. 126) rather than the original meaning of the cornerstone which was the most important part of the foundation.
The Biblical metaphor of Jesus being the cornerstone which the builders rejected conveys the understanding that without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5). The fact that the cornerstone was rejected by the builders also conveys the historical fact of the negligence of those who were responsible. The ones who were responsible were the religious leaders who failed in their task of being fruitful for the forwarding of God’s kingdom here on earth.
THE DAY OF RECKONING
One of the meanings of the word "reckoning" is the settling of an account or accounts. The tenants failed in their task. Everything that they needed for their success was provided, yet they still failed. The owner had planted the vineyard, fenced it in and even put in a watchtower. The vineyard was therefore secure. The fence was a deterrent for potential thieves. The watchtower enabled the guard to see any thieves or animals that might try to steal any of the fruit. The tenants failed in their task because they broke the contract.
The tenants failed because they were not willing to keep the contract. Tenants are people who either rent a place to stay or land to farm. The tenants in this parable were supposed to yield what was due in the harvest of their crops as part of the contract. Notice what the tenants did to the servants who came to collect what was due. They beat one, killed another and stoned the last one of the three in that group (Matthew 21:35). In their rebellion, they broke the contract and acted more like tyrants than tenants.
Although this is a parable, it seems to have some allegorical elements. The servants in this story represent the prophets. God represents the owner of the vineyard. The tenants are the religious leaders. The vineyard is the nation of Israel. The son of the owner of the vineyard is none other than Jesus Christ Himself.
The tenants again, refused to settle the account two more times. The owner of the vineyard sent another group of servants to collect what was due. Again, they were treated just like the first group of servants (Matthew 21:36). Finally, the landowner sent his own son and again the tenants display the same kind of behavior as they killed the son (Matthew 21:37). They hoped to take what belonged to the owner of the vineyard as if it was their own. They reveal who they are in word and deed when they say to themselves, "Let us kill him (the son) and take his inheritance" (Matthew 21:38) and act out the evil deed. Is that not what they did to Jesus, did they not kill Him? Although this parable was convicting to the religious leaders, it was also prophetic as to what would come when Jesus was later crucified.
"One of the supreme tests of life is, "How did we use our privileges?" Oscar Wilde has a terrible kind of parable like this. Jesus was walking through the streets of a city. In an open courtyard. He saw a young man feasting gluttonously and growing drunk with wine. "Young man." said Jesus. "why do you live like that?" "I was a leper." said the young man, "and you cleansed me. How else should I live?" Jesus went on. and he saw a young girl clad in tawdry finery, a girl of the streets, and after her came a young man with eyes like a hunter. "Young man." said Jesus, "why do you look at that girl like that?" "I was blind." said the young man. "and you opened my eyes. How else should I look?" "Daughter." said Jesus to the girl. "why do you live like that?" "I was a sinner." she said. "and you forgave me. How else should I live?" Here were three people who had received priceless gifts from Jesus and who used them like that". (William Barclay. And Jesus Said. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970, p. 141). Is that not the same kind of things that the workers in this parable had done with the vineyard? "What if we have made sin more act than attitude, more flesh than spirit, more general than particular, more national than personal?" (Carlyle Marney. These Things Remain. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953, p. 46). We often condemn sin while we sometimes neglect the attitude and attitudes behind sinful behavior. There cannot be a change in attitude unless there is a change in heart.