Summary: The parable of the wicked tenants is a statement of God’s concern for his people and a declaration that God’s plan cannot be defeated by man. If we love God, we realize that he knows the best way for us to live.
He was, by all accounts, a successful man. This builder of fine homes in an upscale American suburb was known to all as a creative craftsman, a shrewd businessman, a fair-minded employer, and a generous benefactor. But he was aging now, and before he set out for Florida for the winter, he approached his top superintendent and told him that he was retiring. “I want you to build me a home, the finest home this company has ever built. Spare no expense, use the finest materials, employ the most gifted tradesmen, and build me a masterpiece before I come home next spring.”
The next day, the superintendent set out to build that home, but not exactly to orders. If his boss was retiring, that meant he would be losing his job, so he needed to pad his own savings account, lest he be destitute. He ordered inferior concrete blocks for the foundation, but charged the builder for premium blocks, and he pocketed the difference. Now most of you know that I worked for a local lumber mill several years ago, and I saw some pretty inferior material while I was there, especially lumber!!!
The superintendant hired inexperienced carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers and landscapers, but he charged his boss wages that would be paid to master craftsmen, and he put the difference in his own bank account. He installed cheap appliances and lighting, insufficient insulation, inferior carpet, and drafty windows, and he skimmed a tidy sum off the top for himself. In the spring, when the home was finished, it looked spectacular; it was the signature home in the neighborhood, and the only thing that made the superintendent happier than how the project looked was the bottom line in his personal bank account, which had grown by hundreds of thousands of dollars that winter.
When the elderly business owner arrived home from Florida that spring, he toured this home fit for a king, and he was ecstatic. The superintendent handed him the keys and thanked his boss for the privilege of working for him all these years. And then the owner did an unthinkable thing: he said to the superintendent “You have been a trusted friend and a loyal partner in my business for all of these years; you deserve a home like this.” And he handed him the keys.
When you were growing up, did your parents ever have to take anything away from you because you didn’t look after it? If so, you can understand what Jesus is talking about in the parable of the wicked tenants. It is a parable of God’s kingdom on earth. Specifically, God is the landowner, the Jewish leaders and people who reject Jesus or do not care about him are the tenants, the Old Testament prophets are the slaves send by the landowner, and Jesus is the landowner’s son. God gave the kingdom to the Israelites to tend and do his work, but they rejected their duties and turned away from God. In return, he sent the Old Testament prophets to warn them, but the Israelites rejected the prophets, even to the point of hurting or killing them. Finally, God sent his son Jesus to warn them, but he was also rejected and crucified.
The parable of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21:33-46 represents our broken relationship with God, his attempts to repair it, and mankind’s rejection of his attempts. In spite of our continual rejection of him, God never gives up on us. His love for us never diminishes.
Greed is what the parable of the wicked tenants is all about, and greed is everywhere. That’s why the parable is so timely and relevant today; because as that wise homebuilder knew the heart of his superintendant, so Jesus knows the selfish condition of our hearts, and he wants us to change our ways. This parable speaks of anger and hatred against not only God, but against those who oppose him. This can be anyone-nonbelievers, criminals, terrorists, or persecutors.
Exodus 17:1-20 and Matthew 21:33-46 are similar stories. In both cases God has told the people what he wants them to do and how he wants them to live their lives, and in both cases the people rejected him. God has done everything possible to give Israel every advantage. He has established an everlasting covenant with them. He has led them through good times and bad. He has given them the Promised Land as their inheritance. He has even given them the law and prophets to guide them. Were the Israelites grateful to God? No. They accepted everything he offered except for the one thing he asked for in return, and that was to worship him and accept him as their Lord and Saviour. As a consequence, the Jewish leadership, which failed to produce good fruit, was disenfranchised and the vineyard was given to the church, which will produce good fruit. Jesus was not so much foreshadowing the shift of God’s emphasis from Jewish to Gentile realms as he was anticipating the replacement of Israel by the church, which united both Jews and Gentiles.