Then he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”?’
When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
I love this parable in which Jesus characterises the sinful state of the nation and warns of terrible consequential judgements. It also speaks to us today. We need to believe in Jesus Christ for our salvation.
The parable is full of symbolism. The fence, protecting against intrusions from wild animals and thieves, symbolises everything that distinguishes the Jewish nation from the rest of the world. The press symbolises the Tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, while the wine denotes the divinity of the worshippers flowing from the Temple as they worship God. The tower represents Jerusalem, built on a high place with God watching over and providing protection.
The Jews are the tenants, chosen by God, while the Landowner is God who led and nurtured the nation out of Egypt and into the promised land after 40 years in the desert. On reaching the promised land, however, God watches in dismay as his beloved nation flouts His laws and does not produce the fruit, He so longs to receive from them.
The servants are the prophets, kings and priests sent by God to teach the people to bear fruit. But they were beaten, insulted and even killed. Even the beloved son of the Landowner was killed, representing the nation rejecting Christ and having him crucified.
Jesus uses the vineyard to symbolise the nation. His message to those who rejected him was that God would remove the responsibility that He gave them because of their unbelief and sinful nature. Indeed, Jesus passed this responsibility to the Church gathering around the 12 apostles at Pentecost.
The vineyard landowner, God, cares for all of us. We are His children and his tenants. It is our responsibility to produce fruits for our Christian living in our family, church, workplace and society as a whole.
Heavenly Father we thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ to teach us how to live our lives in your vineyard, since we are all tenants in your Kingdom. We pray for wisdom to discern your message that we can only truly enjoy the blessings of the vineyard when we live according to God’s commands. Amen!
Mathias Tchatchoua, Lay Leader, Stow Park Church URC/PCW (LEP), Newport, South Wales.