BIBLE READING:†† Matthew 21: 33-43
Today's Scripture passage one of only three parables to be found Matthew, Mark and Luke, so we have to conclude that it is an important one. It is a parable with many levels of meaning.
You can understand this parable as an allegory. The landowner represents God. The vineyard represents the Kingdom of God. The tenants are the religious leaders. The slaves are the prophets. The son is Jesus. The new tenants are most likely the church.
God entrusted his kingdom to the Israelites during Old Testament times. When they steered off course, God sent the prophets to try to correct them. Most did not listen to the prophets. Finally, God decided to send his son Jesus to make clear God's message. But the leaders turned against Jesus and finally had him killed. Then the majority of the Jewish people refused to accept Christ. So the kingdom was given to a new people, the church. This parable though, can apply to people today who trample on the grace of God.
This story relates to God's incredible patience. This story is a story about God. We find that the landowner had invested a lot in the vineyard. The verbs in verse 33 tell us that he planted, set, dug, built, rented and went. These strong verbs point to the active, caring, loving attitude of the landowner toward his vineyard. Then he went away giving the responsibility to the tenants to till, cultivate, and harvest. He expected his vineyard to produce fruit.
The landowner placed a lot of trust in the tenants, just as God does in us. When ready to claim his harvest, the master sends representatives, not once, but twice. His patience seems unending. These representatives were beaten, stoned, or killed. But the owner was still patient. Finally thinking it inconceivable that his own son would be rejected, he sent him. "They will honour my son," he says.
However, the wicked tenants failed their final opportunity. In the ultimate test, the son was cast out and killed. An ordinary landlord would have sought revenge on these ungrateful tenants. He might bring a legal action against them or even armed forces to claim what is rightfully his. But this landowner is like God, not like us. God sent his Son! The essential character of God is love, and such love is patient.
But this passage also makes clear that there is an end to God's patience. When the Pharisees are asked what the owner of the vineyard will do when he returns, they reply, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time." (v. 41) God is patient, but we should remember that there is a limit to God's patience.
The Bible says there will come a time when God's patience has reached its limits. At that point, the judgement and justice of God will prevail.
We can also see ourselves as the tenants in this parable. We are now the tenants of the Kingdom of God. The tenants were provided with everything they needed. They were given the freedom to do the task as they wished. But they failed! Instead of showing faith, they resorted to greed and their murderous instincts. The behaviour of these tenants was the perfect example of humanity's rebellious response to God's love. The people of God resisting God's love.
One commentator observed that the wicked tenants are those who: - do not want to give fruit to the owner - reject the owner's authority, and - work for themselves.
The servants in this parable worked the land, but they treated the land as if it was their own. Somehow that they forgot that it never belonged to them, they forgot, or rejected their covenant with the landowner.
They owed something to the landowner that they were unwilling to give. The same is true for us. It is clear that we owe something back to God. There is something expected of those who are in the kingdom, namely living under the authority of the Owner, and produce and giving back the proper fruit.
These wicked tenants forgot that they were merely stewards or managers. We sometimes forget too. We are under the delusion of ownership. We think we own things, when in reality God is the owner of all things. All we have belongs to God. We are stewards.
What does "ownership" really mean to us anyway? I have a lot of stuff Ė I guess you could say I owned it. But what happens when I die? Will I own it then? There are no trailers full of peoples stuff behind hearses. We leave everything when we die. So we see that the Bible is accurate when it describes us as stewards. We have possession of things for a little while.
And the Bible reminds us that we owe something back to God. When we hear of giving ten percent of our money as a tithe, many people get upset, they feel as if this is entering into their personal business. If we really understood who is the real owner, we would not object to offering our money to God.
The workers in the parable had grown accustomed to a sense of ownership. Of course they thought they were the owners. They had worked hard for what they had. But the landowner says, "You donít own anything, never did." And God says, "You never owned what you didnít create. You are my guests on earth, not rulers; servants not masters."
Once we get over the delusion of ownership we can really enjoy the good things that God has placed in the garden for our enjoyment. We just need to share it with the other guests as well. As part of the judgement, Jesus makes it clear that the new tenants have the same responsibility as the old -- "to give back to the owner the fruits at their proper time" v. 41. New tenants who think that they are working for themselves could face the same fate as the old ones.
Jesus is the Cornerstone
In verse 42, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23. "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." The rejected stone - the crucified Christ - becomes the cornerstone of God's new building Ė the church. Verse 44 is missing in several important manuscripts, and is oddly placed. Most recent scholarship regards it as authentic. "The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." The imagery has its roots in two OT passages: "He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over - a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken" (Isaiah 8:14-15).
"As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck
the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces...." (Daniel 2:34)
Verse 44 reminds me of the statement, "You can't break God's laws; you can only break yourself on them." It is rather like saying, "You can't break the law of gravity; you can only break yourself by ignoring it." People in every age have the option of accepting or rejecting Jesus. If we accept the stone, it becomes our sure foundation. If we reject it, we are the losers. This imagery reminds us that our faith in Jesus is to be the cornerstone on which our whole lives are built. It's not a hobby; it is a central activity. It is not something extra; it is the central activity.
May we learn from this passage about the incredible patience of God. May we become responsible stewards instead of wicked tenants. May we build our lives on Jesus Christ, the cornerstone.