The Land Owner
One of the more poignant themes of Jesus’s life and ministry is the rejection he experienced at the hands of his own people. The multitudes of course loved him. They hung upon his words, followed him wherever he went, pestered him for cures and healing, and gave vent to their amazement at the miracles he worked. But these were the ordinary people, not the Jewish leaders. Official Judaism had no place for Jesus.
The Jewish leaders – the Pharisees and the scribes – disliked the way Jesus interpreted the Law. They hated the way Jesus showed them up for what they were, hypocritical and self-centred. They rejected his words and bided their time, the time when they would strike. To them Jesus was a threat.
This is the background to the parable or allegory of the “Wicked Tenants in the Vineyard”.
Many prophets, notably Isaiah, had used the symbol of the vineyard for Israel. The owner – here God himself – wants the vineyard to bear fruit, and sends his servants, who are an allegory here for prophets, to challenge Israel in her waywardness. But the servants, many of them, are put to death. Finally, the owner sends his son. Alas, instead of respecting the son and heir to the property, the tenants plot his death, so that they can grab the inheritance for themselves.
The scribes and the Pharisees knew what Jesus was talking about. They recognized their hostility to Jesus in the details of the allegory. Were they prepared to change their attitude to Jesus ? No, not they ! They were sure they were right, and Jesus was wrong.
The story ends with the owner punishing the tenants, and giving over the vineyard to others. The Jews prided themselves on being ‘the chosen people’, but as the allegory goes on to say, God can choose others. The example shifts: at a building site, there are all sorts of stones used. Some are dressed and used by the masons; others are rejected because they are unshapely. But such are God’s ways that an unshapely stone becomes the keystone in the arch. What the builders reject, becomes the most important piece.
This is a parable from two thousand years ago, but its relevance is for today. Sometimes we feel we are specially chosen and let this go to our head.
Let’s remember that to be chosen is not a privilege -- it is a responsibility, a gift, and that we must always, always strive to measure up to our calling. And that we have no exclusive claim to God’s goodness.
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