SCRIPTURE: Matthew 21:33-46
In our Scripture passage today, Jesus presents a parable directed toward the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem. In so doing, Jesus gives these religious leaders a second chance to understand the depth of their hypocrisy and hard-heartedness. Without such an understanding, they cannot receive Him or His mission.
The Parable of the Tenants, as this parable belongs to the genre named allegory. An allegory is a story in which each of its elements; the place, as well as the characters and their actions all, hold a hidden or symbolic meaning.
In this parable, the landowner is God, the vineyard represents the people of Israel, and the tenants who live and work at the vineyard are Israel’s religious leaders. The owner’s servants whom he sends to check on the vineyard are the OT prophets. Finally, the landowner’s son is Jesus, whom the wicked tenants kill.
After recounting the parable, Jesus once again gives the chief priests and elders a chance to weigh in on its meaning. This time, they are indignant and answer quickly: The tenants are wicked and deserve to be destroyed! Other tenants should take their place!
Jesus’ reply lets them know that their assessment of the tenant’s wickedness is right. His answer also shows them in no uncertain terms that they have completely missed the message of His parable.
These religious leaders ARE the wicked tenants.
The chief priests and elders, therefore, pronounce judgment on themselves when they tell Jesus how the owner in the parable should treat the unfaithful tenants.
We can learn a lot from this parable and its allegorical meaning. God is the creator of the people of Israel, and they were meant to be His very own vineyard. He expected the religious leaders that He appointed to care for His people to ensure that good fruit was being produced for His kingdom. God gave them every advantage, including an everlasting covenant which He established with them, His presence through good times and bad, a land overflowing with milk and honey, and guidance through the law and prophets. He then sent His own Son, Jesus, in human form to inspect for Himself the state of His people and receive the fruit of His investment.
Instead of accepting Jesus as the Son of God, the religious leaders who were given the task and honor of being the caretakers of God’s people rejected their Messiah. They would go even further and kill the Son of the One who created and nurtured the Jewish people. Because of their wickedness, they were now destined for destruction and would be replaced with others who would receive the Son and help Him complete His mission.
In Jesus’ story, you will notice that the outcome is not the destruction of the vineyard (Israel). The landowner instead transfers the responsibility or oversight of the work to “other farmers, who will give him the fruit (karpous––fruits) in its season” (v. 41).
For Matthew, fruit means the results of one’s behavior and deeds. This fruit should multiply over our entire life. The Jewish leadership in Matthew’s time failed in their God-given direction because they rejected and killed Jesus and thereby led many Jewish people astray.
The fruit of their wickedness is that many Jews did not receive their Messiah. But, the Apostle Paul, a Jew himself who had been a religious leader and who had formerly rejected Jesus and persecuted His church, writes in Rom 9–11 that God will not ultimately reject His people, Israel. Instead, he inserted the gentiles into His vineyard.
Together, Israel and the nations are meant to produce the good fruit of salvation, not as owners, but as servants of the living God. We may not fully understand this story of God’s grace, but we must agree with Paul, who wrote in Rom 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news” of salvation.
God’s salvation is extended to all people, even those who are hard-hearted toward Him. In today’s parable, God has made Jesus the cornerstone of His building project, and He chooses to add stones that many people would reject. We are the stones, and we must stay aligned with Jesus and His teachings as our cornerstone and foundation.
Not only do we as individuals produce fruit for God’s kingdom, but this church also has work to do that will produce fruit for God’s kingdom. Is not the way we deal with the needy people around us, an indication of the fruit we are building?” We have been tasked with carrying the Gospel to those whose hearts may be challenging. We must remember this because we also are tempted to harden our hearts and ignore God.
God is looking for people who will bring forth fruit. What kind of fruit?
Holy lives––lives lived following God’s will. Jesus is our cornerstone, the foundation upon which we stand. God will count us as fruitful if we have been faithful to receive and show his grace to others as we live according to His holy will. The Holy One who leads us to build God’s kingdom that begins from this earthly life heading to Heavenly Realms. I’ll talk about it next week in the second and final part of this sermon, Jesus, Our Cornerstone.