Luke 20:9-12 (NIV) He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
The tragic and disappointing history of God’s chosen people is clearly laid out in this parable of Jesus. And the focus of the parable, the people that Jesus was targeting, were the Jewish leaders. These leaders may have seemed to be more spiritual than many of the leaders of the past, but they were actually just the next iteration of leaders who lived in rebellion against God and His agenda.
Over the preceding centuries, God had selected people to oversee His community, to stand in His place over them and superintend the work of growing His kingdom until He sent His Messiah to lead them all to the next phase of His plan. But far too many of those leaders that he raised up began to see their role as leading God’s people in THEIR way, with the goal of larding their own wealth, and building their own dynasties.
From time to time God would raise up a prophet and give them a message for those leaders, pointing out their spiritual self-centeredness, and demanding that they return to God and His agenda, in effect demanding the fruit that was supposed to come from his vineyard, but which they had coopted for their own use and enrichment. And it usually turned out that they mistreated those prophets, beat them, imprisoned them, and even killed them, leaving them empty handed.
Even in Jesus’ day, before Jesus came into the public light, John brought this same message of challenge and refocus to those who came to hear him, and that included the Jewish leaders. But rather than receiving his words and repenting, those leaders observed him, judged both him and his message as unauthoritative, and turned away, continuing to enrich themselves on the backs of God’s people, and continuing to pat themselves on the backs for being so much better than their ancestors.
Father, it is very easy for us to keep our eyes on ourselves, and to allow ourselves to become the standard by which we measure our actions and attitudes. The plus side to this is that we all look pretty good when we judge ourselves by our own standards. The down side is that we quickly become smug and self-satisfied, and we grow blind to our own deficiencies, even when You send messengers to point them out to us. Help us, Lord, to always keep our eyes and ears open to Your correction and guidance. And help us to keep Jesus constantly before our eyes as our standard, so that we never grow self-satisfied, but always allow You to continue to mold and shape us into His image. Amen.