There are times when it’s hard to know just when to break the Bible Study so that it isn’t too long. Today I stuck with the one parable because adding the next story would have made this feel a little long. Besides, during the month of November, I participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) so I try not to overburden myself with commitments during November.
1. And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.
Jesus describes a situation that’s still common today: sharecropping. It’s obviously a parable, but let’s look at the setting. A land owner who either can’t or doesn’t want to work the land will rent the land out to people who will farm it. The usual arrangement is that at the end of the growing season, the one who farms will share a portion of their crops with the landowner. I once served in a church where a widow still lived in the home she and her husband had built, but since she couldn’t farm the land, she had sharecroppers. I remember the cantaloupe from that farm was delicious. It can be a good arrangement for farmers with less wealth, because they don’t need to worry about owning the land and the associated costs. The land owner sees their land worked and receives a fair return. Jesus described a man who built a vineyard with all the infrastructure needed to make wine. (And yes, winefat is a real word.) It’s officially the area where the juice of the grapes collect, but it’s used here to describe the whole setup. The landowner, after setting up the process, leased the land to sharecroppers and went off to a far country.
2. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. 3. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.
When the growing season was over, the landowner sent a servant to collect his share of the fruit – the share that had been agreed upon. Instead of honoring their agreement, the sharecroppers captured the servant and beat him, sending him back to the landowner. And the process continued…
4. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. 5. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.
Pretty soon, it became obvious that the most dangerous job was being this landowner’s servant. The people didn’t honor their agreement and they beat or killed any of his servants that came along. While we don’t know the motivation for doing so, we can guess that the sharecroppers had become greedy and didn’t want to abide by their agreement, or, they decided that it wasn’t right for someone to own land and make a profit off of it and they took their moral outrage out on the landowner’s servants. (If I were to get political here, I might say that the sharecroppers were socialists who thought no one should own land and they believed that the landowner was a fascist for owning land and expecting a profit from it, but I wouldn’t do that.)
6. Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. 7. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.’ 8. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
With these two verses, we see the plans of each group come to full fruition: the landowner thinks that the people will respect him enough to respect his son, while the sharecroppers see the son and think that if they kill him, they won’t need to deal with the landowner anymore. And, if you have any New Testament knowledge at all, you realize that Jesus has now defined who the people in the parable are for certain. The landowner being God, the sharecroppers being the religious leaders of Israel, and the son, of course, being Jesus. To be fair, I don’t think that the religious leaders of Israel were thinking that by killing Jesus, which was their ultimate plan, they would be getting rid of any influence of God in their lives. I believe that they thought that getting rid of Jesus would get rid of the threat He posed because of eventual Roman interference. Jesus knew their hearts, though, and this parable let them know that He knew what they were doing AND that their plan of attack would put them at odds with God. In the parable, the sharecroppers went through with their plan and killed the son, just as in real life the religious leaders went through with their plan and killed Jesus. Then, Jesus asked an obvious question:
9. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.
The point of the parable is that there is retribution for those who would destroy the work of God. The lord of the vineyard will wipe out the sharecroppers who killed his son and give the vineyard to others. There are many occasions where vineyard is used as a picture of the nation of Israel, and so Jesus’ deliberate choice of a vineyard instead of some other form of crop was designed to make the religious elite see themselves as God saw them. This was, in effect, a last chance parable that Jesus told to help them change their ways. They didn’t, and history shows that Israel was destroyed as a nation and God’s vineyard was given to those who follow Jesus.
10. And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: 11. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 12. And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.
The religious leaders caught the obvious message of the parable, especially when Jesus pointed out the verse from Psalm 118 that talks about the stone rejected by the builders becoming the cornerstone of God’s building. God brought this about and it is marvelous. It’s hard to imagine that the Jesus broken and bleeding on the cross is the almighty King of Kings and Lord of Lords – but this was God’s doing and it’s amazing. The religious leaders wanted to take Jesus out then, but they were afraid of the people because everyone realized that He was speaking against them. They left, knowing they couldn’t take him out in public, but they continued their plans to destroy Him.