Matthew 21:33-46

“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.

When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.

Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 

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.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 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. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. Matthew 21:33-46

I got hung up on this parable. I’ve had to spend a few days trying to figure out why.

I think that begins with how I find myself reacting to the “traditional” interpretation of it. That usually means seeing it as a thinly veiled allegory. Here’s how that goes: The landowner is God. The vineyard is the world. The tenants are the Jews throughout the Old Testament and all the way up to Jesus. The harvest time is when God decides to gather in the harvest of goodness that God expects to see in the vineyard. The tenants, those who see themselves safeguarding the religious rules of Judaism, are those who refuse to give to God what belongs to God. They want to keep everything for themselves.

The slaves going to claim the harvest are the prophets down through the years and the son is Jesus – each of whom was rejected. Moral of the story: Jesus and all who believe in him are good, the Jewish religious leaders, all the way down to the Pharisees opposing Jesus, are bad.

And what is worse, they recognize this themselves and yet do nothing about it. They don’t change their thinking or their behaviors. Why? Because they feared the crowds.

I’m not hearing the parable that way today. I think it is because of the pervasive nature of “victim thinking” and “us vs. them” thinking that dominates our lives. We are constantly bombarded these days with people telling us that other people are out there to get us. Preying on our fears, fueling our anxiety, demonizing the “other”, and spinning everything so that “we” look good and “they” look bad. So we read a parable like this and we distance ourselves from it. We stand back and watch. We cheer for the good guys and hiss at the bad guys and the parable leaves us untouched.

But what if we step into it? What if we see how the tenants have poured their lives into caring for the vineyard of an absent landlord and then realizing that they won’t taste the harvest? We would be angry too. What we if see ourselves as the slaves, unwittingly sent into a struggle that we didn’t see coming? Just doing our jobs, we find ourselves attacked. What if we see ourselves as the son, coming to our father’s vineyard, expecting to be respected, only to be killed? And what if we see ourselves as the tenants at the end, suddenly realizing the darkness and foolhardiness of what we have done?

And what if we see ourselves as the Pharisees, way more interested in pleasing the crowd and keeping our positions than of seeking the truth and following God?

If we enter this vineyard, seeing ourselves everywhere, we suddenly realize that the entire place is a mess. It doesn’t require a subtle change in management, a few new rules or new interpretations of old ones. It is far too broken for that. It needs a wholesale do-over. A fresh start. A new birth.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you know us so well. You know the depth of our fears and our anxieties about the world around us, the world inside of us. You know how easily we distract ourselves from what matters and how quickly we divide ourselves from one another. We have really made a mess of things. Come to us. Open our hearts and minds that your love, which alone can heal all that hurts, may have free rein in our thoughts and actions. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


One Response to “Matthew 21:33-46”

  1. Carolee Groux Says:

    “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The LORD will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.” ~ Psalms 34:17-22

    The Lord hears our cries and will deliver us from our foes. The word of the Lord for the people of God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: