Matthew 21:33-41 (NIV) “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
Jesus never gives a thorough interpretation of this parable, but its meaning is clear, at least to those with eyes to see and a grasp of history.
The vineyard is much more than the land of Israel. It is actually the kingdom of God. God intended for the Israelites to live in His kingdom in the land, and to use the blessings that He poured out on them, not to make themselves comfortable, but to draw all nations in so that His glory would fill the whole earth.
But that’s not the way that it worked out. Instead, the people became self-focused, self-indulgent, and ingrown. They did not bother to produce the real fruit that God was looking for, and fattened themselves on what grew wild.
God sent His servants, the prophets, over and over to try to stir up in the people repentance for their inactivity and zeal for the work that He had left for them to do. But they had grown fat and lazy, and had replaced devotion to God with devotion to idols. God didn’t’ give up, but sent more and more prophets. But these were often persecuted, and even killed, with the violence against His messengers adding an additional barrier between God and the people He had chosen.
Finally, God sent Jesus, His Son. He was preceded by John, whose task was to prepare the hearts of the people to receive Him by leading them to repentance. But not all of the people were prepared, and these religious leaders were actively opposed to John’s work because it was not done under their auspices. Their hearts remained unchanged, their lives were remiss in carrying out God’s plan, and they still had hearts that would willingly persecute anyone who confronted them with the truth.
Jesus knew that in a matter of days, these same leaders would succeed in killing Him, the heir, and foretold it graphically in the parable. But far from merely removing what they considered a pest, so that their lives could get back to their comfortable rhythm, this act would exponentially increase their guilt before God, and would set in motion events that would take the pleasant vineyard, God’s kingdom, away from them entirely, and place it in the hands of the sinners and gentiles whom they so despised, but who would grow it and produce its fruit.
Father, it’s a sobering reality that we, as Christians, have been the recipients of Your kingdom, and have in turn been charged with producing its fruit. But how many of us have fallen into the same error as the priests and elders of the Jews: using the blessings You give us for our own agendas instead of for Yours, and becoming self-focused, self-indulgent, and ingrown? Forgive us, Lord, for allowing ourselves to become immersed in the things of this world to the hurt of Your agenda. Help us to see clearly, to repent fully, and to start moving forward again in Your agenda. Amen.