Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Parable of the Tenants

In the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21: 33 – 46 Jesus continues to speak to the chief priests and elders and Pharisees pulling them into another story where they again make a quick judgment and incriminate themselves. These leaders are familiar with the way the parable opens: there is a landowner, a vineyard, a wall, a winepress and a watchtower. If you read Isaiah 5: 1 – 7 you can get into the heads of these men and know what they know. The same landowner, vineyard, wall, winepress and watchtower are presented in the Old Testament.

In Jesus’ parable the vineyard (the kingdom of heaven or Israel) is rented to some farmers (the leaders and people of Israel) and at harvest time the landowner (God) sends his servants (the prophets) to collect the fruit. They are beaten, killed and stoned. He sends his son (Jesus, the Messiah) and they kill him, too.

Jesus asks the Pharisees what the landowner will do to the tenants and they immediately say “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Boy, they got that right. Jesus then directly says that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them (the Jews) and given to a people (the Gentiles) who will produce its fruit. Just before this, in verse 42, Jesus says “Have you never read . . .” and then he quotes Psalm 118, the very psalm that was sung and shouted three days before (Palm Sunday) on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”). I think he is ridiculing or at the least being condescending and disdainful of the priests when he starts that statement with the negative “never”.

“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” The stone, of course, is Jesus as Peter proclaims quite clearly in Acts 4:11.

Verse 44 is double deadly: “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” The Pharisees and the chief priests have fallen on the stone (Jesus) and they are being broken because they just don’t “get it” and they still look for a way to arrest him. The stone will fall on and utterly crush those who don’t believe – unbelievers will be destroyed – ground to powder. That’s a pretty gruesome picture and it’s one that you can find first in the book of Daniel, chapter 2, where the same crushing stone refers to the Second Advent. Daniel warns that if we do not respond to the ministry of the gospel in the present age, there is coming a time when the enemies of the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be utterly destroyed.
(I am fascinated with how the Old and New Testaments inter-weave so divinely.)