Parable of the Tenants

Cornerstone (My hope is built on nothing less. Links to Youtube video)

Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus said, “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 watchtower. 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, 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 in 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 realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Jesus often taught in parables, apparently simple stories that illustrate his lessons; fictitious stories that illustrate moral principles; earthly stories with heavenly meanings.

They weren’t always understood and sometimes Jesus had to explain the meaning to his disciples. Sometimes people were left wondering about their meaning. As he said, they were understood by those “with ears to hear”.

What do you hear in this parable? What do you think this parable is all about?  

Who does the landowner represent? Who are the tenants and who are the slaves they beat up? Then, who is the landowner’s son whom they killed?

Of course, then there’s the question, “what was the outcome, what’s the message and what’s it mean in our time?”

What do you think it’s all about?

Who does the landowner represent?

Look at the warning Jesus gave that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you. That makes it pretty clear that the landowner represents God, The King of his kingdom, our creator who placed humans in his creation to care for it.

 He planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower.  He set up his creation ready for his tenants, to care for it, to be productive, to bring in the harvest and hand over the produce to God himself. Hw then seems to stand back and let the people get on with life, meeting their obligations.

We read, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.”

In other words, there was something in the parable, and in others, that the chief priests and Pharisees understood was clearly aimed at them, so much so that they wanted to arrest Jesus and shut him up. 

Eventually they got around to that but for the time being they stood back and stewed because the crowds could see that Jesus was someone special even if they couldn’t or, perhaps, wouldn’t.

The slaves God sent to collect the produce from the tenants seem to represent the prophets and teachers God sent over the years to guide the people but whose message was not appreciated.  Indeed, it offended people because these messengers were often having to rebuke them for their failures and faithlessness. Often, in rejecting the message sent to them, people twisted it, ignored it and then punished the messengers as a way of avoiding the message.

You will remember that Jesus had some very harsh words for the Pharisees, calling them snakes, blind guides and whitewashed tombs.  They had continued the trend of their ancestors. They had dominated the people, imposed heavy rules and requirements on them and led them astray with false teaching.

The record of history shows God’s messengers were locked up, attacked, beaten and even killed.  These are facts the Pharisees could not deny, as uncomfortable the truth was to hear.

They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

But it gets worse.

 ‘The LORD had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, “They will respect my son.

And that, of course, is what happened, not only in the parable but also in real life.

“‘But the tenants said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

Not many months after Jesus told this parable those same priests and Pharisees manipulated not only the people but the Roman leaders as well and connived to have Jesus crucified.  They took the only beloved son of God and had him killed. They ignored the message God had sent them in the form of the last and greatest of the prophets. They beat him, mocked him and threw him out of the city and out to Golgotha, the mount of crucifixion.

Up to this point in the telling of the parable Jesus has been talking about the tenants of an imaginary vineyard.  His listeners then, and now us also, can sense that he is talking about them, talking about us.  

We know the Pharisees got the message as shown by their subsequent actions. We can know whether people nowadays get the message by their subsequent actions, too.

Suddenly Jesus draws attention to the critical, present and most relevant point of the parable.

 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 in 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.”

From the Psalms to Revelation this cornerstone marks the point of alignment for truth, for faith, for the church, for your life. Work out from this point to keep the structure square and stable.  

Ignore it and you lose your place and things go awry.

Indeed, you will lose the lot. Your place in the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to someone else. And if this stone trips you up it’s you who is broken to pieces.  If this stone falls on you it will crush you.

What is this stone, this cornerstone? It was God himself who set it up. In this parable it refers to the landowner’s son who was rejected by the tenants. 

It means Jesus himself.

According to the parable, when the landowner’s son arrived the tenants continued their rebellion against the rights of the landowner and killed the son with the goal of a full takeover. To take the son’s inheritance. 

They were expecting to own and rule the whole vineyard, ignoring the right that the landowner, God himself, had to be in charge. It was an act of clear rebellion.

The Pharisees had set themselves up as the rule-makers, telling their community how to behave and who was in charge.  Over generations they had overpowered the prophets and messengers God had sent to remind them who really was in charge and correct them in their errors.

Now they are confronted with the Son of God himself who was going around the countryside as God’s ultimate prophet and messenger and they really didn’t like it.

But Jesus didn’t tell this parable just to confront the Pharisees. His message is for us, too.

God has set us up in our own version of a wonderful vineyard and expects us to produce not wine but the fruit of the Holy Spirit and of good works.

In fact he has the same expectations of every living person in the world.  We are all tenants in his vineyard - every single one of us. 

Everyone must check that they have respected each of the messengers God has sent into our lives.  Jesus points out that the crucial checkpoint is one question, “how have you reacted to the cornerstone?” Is Jesus your Lord and Saviour? Is he your God? Is he your cornerstone?

Jesus coming as God’s appointed checkpoint was predicted long before he came. For example,

Isaiah 28:16 Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

Acts 4:11-12 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

You know as well as I do that most of the people in our community not only pay Jesus very little respect but rather, they disrespect him. They trip over Jesus the cornerstone.

So what will happen to people who fail to submit to the Son of God and reject Jesus? As they fall over this stumbling block they will be broken to pieces.  They will be crushed as the cornerstone falls on them.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Jesus raises the question himself in telling the parable.

 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.”

Now, there’s something else most of us prefer not to think about. One inevitability is that the owner of the vineyard will return.  Jesus told his disciples that the day of his return in the capacity of judge would take us by surprise but it would come in an unmissable way. 

Hebrews 9:27 people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,

Sharing the gospel, the message of Jesus, is such a positive thing.  We want to talk about the love of God, the wonderful mercy of God, the gracious gift of forgiveness he gives in response to our repentance, the glorious presence of his Holy Spirit in and with us. The Christian gospel is such good news.

God sent his only begotten son, the son he so much loved, and he was given to take the blame and power of our sins, then to rise in victory as the lord, the king of the universe. This gospel invites its hearers into a wonderful relationship with our Father God through the precious fellowship with have with Jesus the son.

These teachings, these facts are a joy to share but if we are to be honest and tell the whole story we find the lectionary brings us to parables like this.

What is not so pleasant is the inevitable requirement to share the message that Jesus gave in this parable - to be honest and tell the whole story.

What ultimately matters is how God will judge each of us, measured by how we have responded to the gospel.  The Gospel comes with a warning such as the one Jesus presents here.

How have you responded to Jesus, the Son of God? Have you submitted to him as your lord and saviour? Do you respond to him with productive, fruitful lives? Does this include urging others to also pay attention to the messengers God has sent them, to the message of the Bible?

I fear for so many of my friends and family, for so many of the people in the world because there is a day set by God alone when we each face his judgement. We will be judged by the way we have responded to Jesus the cornerstone. What then?

We pray for them, of course. 

We try to live lives consistent with trustworthy tenants. We try to show people that our relationship with Jesus us real and living. We want to reassure people that Jesus is the foundation stone of our lives and should be so of theirs.

We do this out of love and concern for them because we know Jesus is the only way to find eternal life. We know that here is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. 

And we are motivated at least because of the question Jesus asked:

“Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 

Will he say, “well done, good and faithful servant”? 

Or will he… put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”


1440 Modified: 16-10-2023
© Poweringon 2000-2024#554