'Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.
Finally he sent his son to them, saying, "They will respect my son."
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, "This is the heir; come, come let us kill him and get his inheritance."
So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?'
They said to him, '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.'
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing our eyes”? Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realised that he was speaking about them, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.’
Sometimes Jesus likes to speak in opaque parables that are open to interpretation and lead to transformative debate. Their meanings lie deep beneath the surface of still waters like treasures one must dive to lay hold of and drag to the surface.
At other times, the meanings of his parables lay barely beneath the surface and are clear to all within earshot. This is one of those.
A landowner planted a vineyard. He gave it a fence. He dug a wine-press. He built a watch-tower.
God rescued the people of Israel from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. He planted them as his vineyard.
As a fence, he marked the boundaries of what he had promised them. As a winepress, he gave them the Law through which the fruit of their labour would bring glory to him and provision to the community. As a watch-tower, he sent prophets to warn them of the dangers of their actions and to remind them of God’s covenant with them. Israel is the vineyard of the Lord … and Jesus is not the first one to make this connection. This parable is not new information but rather a new revelation of God’s words through Isaiah in Isaiah 5:1-7 —
Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
The landowner sent servants who were killed.
God sent prophets who met the same fate.
The landowner sent his son in the hope that the tenants would listen.
The Son that God sends predicts his approaching death.
The tenants in the parable seize the son with the hope of taking his inheritance. They want the land and its fruit without relationship with its owner.
Israel’s religious leaders want to receive blessing and produce nothing. They don’t want to follow the Son of God — they want to usurp him.
This is the danger of believing that we are God’s people to the exclusion of the rest of the world. We expect everything of God and nothing of ourselves.
Jesus, instead of threatening or predicting judgment, asks a question of the crowd.
What will the landowner do?
And the crowd answers:
'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.’
As I wrote last week, we want grace for ourselves and ‘justice’ for everyone else. It’s easy to forget that God did not call Israel for Israel’s sake but for the sake of the world.
They were blessed to be a blessing.
He revealed himself to Israel that they might reveal him to the world.
So Jesus says to them,
'Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.’
'But we are children of Abraham!’ their hearts would reply.
Jesus also said, 'Do not presume to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our ancestor"; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ (Matthew 3:9-10)
No matter how hard I try, I cannot escape Jesus’ words about how we live.
You might say to me, ‘But faith is enough for me to go to Heaven!’
If having faith is about ‘going to Heaven’, then it is about what you want.
Bearing fruit, however, is about revealing the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is establishing here. It’s about what he wants.
Plants are lifeforms rooted in a source of nutrients that produce fruit.
Parasites are lifeforms that feed on the nutrients of their host but produce nothing.
Which leaves me with the question, am I a plant or a parasite?
As we move on from the Gospels and into the book of Acts and the Epistles, we see that God is on the move in a different way than before. The Kingdom of God does not exclude Israel but, rather, it has expanded beyond Israel to everyone who finds him and seeks to serve him.
Jew and Gentile.
Male and Female.
Slave and Free.
All are welcome ... No one is excluded ...
Except for those who want to make it about them.