The Rebel Tenants in the Vineyard
by Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
I will send my own dear son; surely they will respect him!’ v14But when the tenants saw him, they said to one another, ‘This is the owner’s son. Let’s kill him, and his property will be ours!’ v15So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
As we come close to the Passion Week commonly called Holy Week, we are put closer to the events in our gospel lesson this Sunday. The episodes of Luke 20:1-21:36 occurred on Tuesday before Passion Week – a long day of controversy. Putting together the accounts of the Gospels (Synoptic) – particularly that of Mark indicate that this day followed the Cleansing of the Temple (Monday), which followed the Triumphal Entry (Sunday). The story in our gospel appointed this Sunday according to Saint Luke is about the rebellious tenants of the vineyard. When the time has come when the owner of the vineyard came to get his share and for the tenants to “give him some of the fruit”. In accordance with agreed sharecropping, a fixed amount was due the landowner. But instead of complying they beat the servants he had sent to collect his share and worst even killed his very son, the expected heir of the vineyard.
The story is unmistakably blunt. It is directed to the religious leaders of Jesus’ times. The parable is reminiscent of Isaiah 5:1-7, v7Israel is the vineyard of the Lord Almighty; the people of Judah are the vines he planted. He expected them to do what was good, but instead they committed murder. He expected them to do what was right, but their victims cried out for justice.
The servants who were sent to the tenants represents the prophets God sent in former times who were rejected.
Jesus told this direct story when the religious authorities of his time started to question his authority. In this particular case when he drove out merchants out of the temple as told on the previous chapter (Luke 19). Who give you this authority? They had asked this of John the Baptist and of Jesus early in his ministry. In this situation the reference is to the cleansing of the temple, which not only defied the authority of the Jewish leaders but hurt their monetary profits or business enterprise. The leaders may also have been looking for a way to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people or raise suspicion of him as a threat of authority of Rome.
The people’s worship had become dysfunctional that Jesus became angry and drove the merchants out of God’s temple. Correcting this gross perversion was not appreciated and did not produce the desired change in the worshippers. Instead, the priests, religious teachers, and leaders were angry and desired vengeance. Change even much-needed change for the better, is resisted by those in denial – and proud.
The point of the parable is indeed unmistakably blunt. No one likes to be confronted with their denial and blindness. The tenants rejected the messages of the servants and killed the owner’s son. Jesus’ audience, especially the priests and religious teachers, did the same; they did not like the message so they killed the messenger (Jesus). When we deny the truth, there is not much God or others can do. Sometimes the truth can penetrate our denial when someone speaks plainly but indirectly as Nathan did with David by telling him a story, which motivated David to repent of his sin (2 Samuel 12). Yet some people in denial, like the one Jesus was speaking to, will resist to their dying day.
Let us pray
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners; Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. ( Lenten Collect 5, BCP)