One time there was a little village in the mountains of Italy where the people grew grapes. The mountain sides were covered with vineyards and each family in the community contributed to the making of wine. It was some of the finest wine in the world. Each village had a number of different recipes. Each family would bring their wine to the center of town and pour it into one large keg. As a result, the wine was a mixture of many recipes which made it very unique.
One particular year the weather did not cooperate and the vineyards did not produce an abundance of grapes. One of the wine makers decided that since things would be tight that year he would sell his wine elsewhere. He then filled his barrel with water and poured it into the town keg, thinking that one barrel of water in the gigantic keg would go unnoticed and not impact the outcome of the wine.
The wine in the keg aged for seven years. At the end of seven years the villagers all gathered around that particular keg to sell their wine to merchants who had come from all over the world. The entire community depended on the sale of their wine to provide for them until the next season. The villagers gathered around the giant keg and it was tapped. A pitcher was placed at the tap and out came nothing but pure water. It seemed that everyone in the village that year had the same idea and none had put in wine. Since everyone held back there was no wine to sell.
“The villagers refused to share their wine with their neighbors and consequently no one ended up with anything. The parable of the vineyard is not unlike the villagers in Italy. The servants were to reap the fruits of the vineyard for the landowner but were denied that opportunity by the tenants. The tenants refused to share their grapes with others. They even went so far as to mistreat the servants and even kill the landowner’s son.
Jesus uses the parable of the vineyard to describe the kingdom of God. It reminds us that we are here temporarily on earth and that we are God’s guests. God wants us to be grateful for all that we have and to share what we have been given.”
Our gospel lesson picks up where we left it last week. The “religious authorities” are questioning Jesus’ authority. Some things never change. Religious authorities today question anyone who comes along when that one does not toe the party line. The tendency to use Christian dogma as a battering ram makes today’s religious authorities no different than the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day.
We sort of talked about this at last Wednesday’s book study. Jesus, with maybe a few exceptions, said nothing inconsistent with what is said in the Old Testament. Where the prophets called Israel to a place of shalom, Jesus calls the place or state of being of shalom, the kingdom of God or in Matthew, the kingdom of Heaven. The point being that we are to bring this about. Jesus pointed out the way, but as Jesus’ followers, we are required to do the job.
It is in this context that Jesus responds with the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Jesus uses a commonly understood metaphor for Israel – that is, the vineyard. Old Testament passages reference Israel as a vineyard. When Jesus says “vineyard”, his audience knows what he is really talking about. Actually what Jesus says is very similar to what the prophet Isaiah said to Israel (Isaiah 5:1–7):
“Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!”
Recycling even happens in the Bible.
The system of tenant farming was wide-spread for centuries. Until the French Revolution, virtually all of French land was rented. Depending on what part of the world one was at, up to one-half of the produce was expected to be given to the landowner. For the Roman Empire after the Romans conquered territory, the Romans would allow you back on your land, but you would have to give them 10% of what you produced.
When Jesus is talking about the sending of the son and his being thrown out, he is likely referring to the time when Jesus will be taken outside Jerusalem’s walls to be crucified. The crowd got so invested with the story that they gave the ending that tenants will be killed and new tenants will be chosen.
Jesus’ quoting Psalm 118:22-23 implies that just as Isaiah warned Israel that they can be replaced, Jesus is the cornerstone of the church that will replace the Jewish nation.
The desire of the authorities to arrest Jesus was great and time was not on their side. The Passover was near when religious law prohibits arrests. Then after the holiday, Jesus could easily slip out of the city. They probably felt like a fisherman, who just as the fish was being reeled in to break the surface of the water, slips the hook.
So as we look at this parable in its context, we have God is the land owner and the vineyard is God’s kingdom. In ancient Israel, God takes the land/kingdom away from the people as they go into exile. Some later return. The parable is addressed to their descendants. Rome destroys Jerusalem in the first Jewish revolt. All Jews are kicked out of Palestine after the second Jewish Revolt. All that remained were pagans and Christians.
Since by implication we Christians are now the tenants, we are the keepers of the vineyard/kingdom. We are responsible to give the landowner (God) part of the produce. We own nothing. We are tenants. How much do you think you owe God for your share of your produce?
Text: Matthew 21:33–46 (NRSV)
33 “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. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 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.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;f
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43 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.g 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”h
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. 
 Keith Wagner, Guests at the Table
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Is 5:1–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
f Or keystone
g Gk the fruits of it
h Other ancient authorities lack verse 44
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 21:33–46). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.