Summary: This parables is about Israel, Israel’s response to the kingdom message of Jesus, and the consequences from a lack of response by the religious leaders and then the people.
The Parables of Jesus
The Wicked Tenants
June 14, 2009
This week we are going to examine what many consider to be a very complicated parable: the parable of the wicked tenants. This is a parable about Israel. It goes along with similar themes to the parable of the two sons and the parables of the wedding banquet and feast (which we will look at next time). So turn to Matthew 21:33-46.
A mother ran into the bedroom when she heard her seven-year-old son scream. She found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl’s grip and said comfortingly to the boy, "There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t know that hurts." He nodded his acknowledgement, and she left the room.
As she started down the hall the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, "What happened?"
The little boy replied, "She knows now."
33"Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
35"The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37Last of all, he sent his son to them. ’They will respect my son,’ he said.
38"But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ’This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40"Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"
41"He will bring those wretches to a wretched end," they replied, "and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time."
42Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:
" ’The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed."
45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.
As with many parables, Jesus uses symbols in his stories that give a deeper meaning. This is where we need to be careful because not all things have deeper meanings. Sometimes a field is really just a field. But here we can deduce some likely meanings.
• The vineyard is Jerusalem
I say likely here because sometimes these things are debated. Here some say that the vineyard is all of Israel. I believe that is represents all of Israel because it is indicative of Jerusalem. Jesus paints the picture of a wall, a watch tower and a winepress. This combination most likely would have pointed to Jerusalem. The wall around Jerusalem. The watch tower would be a the temple who was supposed to keep watch over the spiritual life of the people. The winepress would also point to the Temple but specifically the Temple authorities who were supposed to take care of the people especially the poor financially but Jesus is indicating that they had misappropriated the finances. No wonder the religious rulers were so upset.
Besides the placement of this parable in relation to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and arrival at the temple makes it very clear who Jesus is accusing.
• The servants are the prophets
These are the OT prophets many of whom were beaten and killed as God’s messengers. God sent them to all of Israel and to Jerusalem many, many times.
• The son is Jesus
Jesus who would be very shortly taken outside the city walls and crucified. He was taken outside so that the city and the Temple would not be ritually defiled.
• The tenants are Israel
Not just one generation but in general all of Israel over the course of its history. And especially those who are to be leaders over Israel.
I know that it can be especially tempting to continue allegorizing everything in this parable. However, other than these items, there is no clear indication that Jesus intended for his hearers to do so. The inheritance is not eternal life. The fruit is not the sinner’s prayer. These are more general as in the message of the kingdom and the productive living that follows. Specifics are not given by Jesus here about what entails productive living nor does Jesus give details on what the judgment looks like other than the wicked tenants will meet their deserved end.