How well do we look after the things that God has entrusted to us? The Gospel passage assigned to this week is the famous ‘parable of the tenants’ or ‘tenants in the vineyard’ which Jesus told.
To the people who first heard this story, and especially the Jewish leaders, this ‘parable’ has so many points of reference and relevance to the religious situation at the time. The vineyard is the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7). The owner of the vineyard is God. The cultivators are the religious leaders of Israel who were in charge of the fruit of God’s people. The messengers who were sent successively are the prophets and the son who came last is none other than Jesus Himself. In this one short story we have the whole history of the doom of Israel. Let us go deeper and draw out other truths. The parable tells us about the nature of God. The owner of the vineyard trusted the cultivators. God has given us freedom to carry out His work. The owner of the vineyard was also exceedingly patient. He sent messenger after messenger and therefore gave the cultivators every chance to change their ways. But the owner of the vineyard does eventually exact judgement on the cultivators. He takes the work away from them altogether. This parable, or allegory, also has much to teach us about humanity. It shows human privilege. The vineyard was equipped with everything: a wall, a winepress, and a watchtower. God has given us everything we need in order to do his work. It shows human freedom. The owner of the vineyard is no tyrannical master who demands instant results. Sadly, the parable shows us the deliberate and calculating nature of human sin. Finally, the parable also shows us that there is ultimately a day of reckoning. In addition to showing us the nature of God and the nature of humanity, the parable also shows us the significance of Jesus. The prophets preceded Jesus. They were messengers from the owner whereas Jesus was the son of the owner. Jesus was both greater than any who went before him and He was also unique. The parable also signposts the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus went willingly, at the behest of the Father in order to sort out the situation of human sin. The parable then concludes with the picture of a stone. There are in fact, two pictures here. The first one is simple, the stone the builders rejected turns out to be the most important (Psalm 118:22). There is also a more difficult picture of a stone from the Old Testament. Three passages are relevant: Isaiah 8:14,15; Isaiah 28:16, and Daniel 2:34,44,45. The interpretation of this focuses on Jesus. Jesus is not only the foundation on which everything else is built and not only the corner stone which holds everything together but also the one who will break the enemies of God.
Back to our question at the beginning. How well do we steward God’s gifts and, of course, the greatest gift of all in Jesus? To be cruel and calculating stewards has clear consequences.
Old Testament reading for this week: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 21:33-46
Epistle reading for this week: Philippians 3:4-14
Psalm for this week: Psalm 19