Renters of a Vineyard
(Mark 12.1-12; Luke 20.9-19)
33 Jesus told the chief priests and leaders to listen to this story:
A land owner once planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it and dug a pit to crush the grapes in. He also built a lookout tower. Then he rented out his vineyard and left the country.
34When it was harvest time, the owner sent some servants to get his share of the grapes. 35But the renters grabbed those servants. They beat up one, killed one, and stoned one of them to death. 36He then sent more servants than he did the first time. But the renters treated them in the same way.
37Finally, the owner sent his own son to the renters, because he thought they would respect him. 38But when they saw the man's son, they said, “Someday he will own the vineyard. Let's kill him! Then we can have it all for ourselves.” 39So they grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40Jesus asked, “When the owner of that vineyard comes, what do you suppose he will do to those renters?”
41The chief priests and leaders answered, “He will kill them in some horrible way. Then he will rent out his vineyard to people who will give him his share of grapes at harvest time.”
42 Jesus replied, “You surely know that the Scriptures say,
‘The stone the builders
is now the most important
stone of all.
This is something
the Lord has done,
and it is amazing to us.’
43I tell you God's kingdom will be taken from you and given to people who will do what he demands. 44Anyone who stumbles over this stone will be crushed, and anyone it falls on will be smashed to pieces.”
45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard these stories, they knew Jesus was talking about them. 46So they looked for a way to arrest Jesus. But they were afraid to, because the people thought he was a prophet.
As Jesus approaches his crucifixion his confrontation with the religious authorities becomes sharper. He continues to speak in parables, and their meaning was not lost on them.
Vineyards were a common sight in Israel, and are found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament as an image of the garden that God is cultivating with his people. Isaiah 5:1-7 tells of a vineyard, just like this one, that failed to produce good fruit. He explains that
“The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel.”
Jesus’ elaboration of the story is different, but the end result is the same in both cases. The vineyard is taken away. Isaiah prophesied that the nation of Israel would be taken into exile, and that’s exactly what happened. Jesus warns the chief priests and Pharisees that the kingdom of God would similarly be taken away from them.
There is only one reason for putting work into a vineyard: to produce grapes. Jesus’ focus is not on the quality of the fruit, but on the servants that the owner of the vineyard sent to get the fruit. One after another, the servants were killed. The chief priests and the prophets didn’t miss the fact that Jesus was referring to the way that Israel had treated the prophets that God had sent. (Hebrews 11:36-38 gives a graphic description of what God’s people had suffered over the centuries.)
Then Jesus’ words become very pointed. The owner of the vineyard finally sent his son, and instead of the tenants respecting him they killed him too.
The chief priests had been plotting against Jesus for a while now, and were only a few days away from putting him to death. He was well aware of what was about to happen the next weekend, but he could also see beyond that. The kingdom of God would be given to others, to the Gentiles. That’s us.
And the message for us? What kind of fruit are we producing for the master of the vineyard? You can find a list in Galatians 5:22-23.
Heavenly Father, thank you for all the care you have put into your vineyard. Thank you for sending your Son. We honour him now, and pray that your Spirit will make us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.