Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
The parables of Jesus all deal with a single theme, and we do them a disservice to read more out of them than Jesus put into them. In the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46), we can:
- Identify the landowner who planted the vineyard with God and the vineyard with Israel. The parable calls to mind Isaiah 5:7, which declares, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.”
- Be sure that God always lavishes upon his people the care that the landowner lavished upon his vineyard when he planted it, put a fence around it, dug a winepress, and built a watchtower.
- Identify the wicked tenants with the temple authorities. In verse 45 the evangelist writes, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized [Jesus] was speaking about them.”
- Identify the landowner’s slaves with the prophets and the landowner’s son with Jesus, who was in constant conflict with the religious and secular authorities.
According to the parable, and Jesus’ use of Psalm 118, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (verse 22), God will someday punish those who killed the prophets and his son and give the care of his people to others.
Here we must use caution. Though it is tempting to identify ourselves with those “Christian Jews” who followed Jesus and to distance ourselves from those Jews who did not, we would do better to remember that Jesus never rejected the Jews, per se, but the evil princes, false shepherds, tradition-bound scribes, and self-righteous zealots, whom the prophets and Jesus accused of leading God’s people astray. Then and now, the warning of James is apropos: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
Worth Green, pastor, Fries Memorial Moravian Church
Winston-Salem, North Carolina