Blood in the Vineyard – not written by Agatha Christie- Friday, 2nd Week of Lent -Matthew 21: 33-43, 45-56
How you see this parable will all depend on if you’re a Christian in the year 2021, or a Pharisee of the first century. So let’s place this parable in perspective. Jesus is at the gates of Jerusalem engaged in a verbal battle with the Pharisees. He has cleansed the temple and now, these leaders challenge His authority. His reply to them is reiterated over three parables; today’s text being the second.
As I said before, it all depends on which point you stand, in order for you to understand the meaning of the text. For us today, God is the owner of the vineyard, the prophets are the servants, Jesus is the Son, the Pharisees are the wicked tenants and we are the new tenants who will inherit the vineyard. This scenario would have panned out quite differently for the Pharisees, who never got the point. Why? Because they were land owners! And so they understood the story with a first century Jewish mind-set. For them, this was a drama and they mistook themselves to be in the lead role.
Many of the Pharisees would have been in reality, what they came to be called, ‘absentee landowners’. Such landowners would lease out the vineyard to tenants and then make their way to the city. The payment to the landowner was made in kind, namely a percentage of the produce. If the landowner did not receive his due, he would simply lease the land to other tenants. The Pharisees, themselves landowners, could not identify even for a second, the role of being a tenant.
The point of the narrative is to highlight that there is nothing wrong with the harvest, but with the attitude of the Pharisees who in this case were the tenants. In response to a seemingly naïve landlord, their arrogant and violent response make little sense. Assuming they succeeded in killing the land owner’s son, which they do, they still won’t inherit the land as the father is still alive! But Jesus, in portraying what seemed to be a naïve response of the landlord, to send his only son, was actually exposing the evil thoughts in the hearts of the Pharisees.
By the time the penny dropped for the Chief priests and Pharisees, it was too late. Their realization that Jesus was speaking of them as the wicked tenants and not the absentee landlords, was slow to come. They stood exposed and because of the crowds who regarded Jesus as a prophet, refrained from arresting Him or even worse, killing Him right there! What was worse, was that in answering His question, they had condemned themselves with their own words, “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” (verse 41). In their many attempts to trap Him, they now get trapped themselves. This constant run in between Jesus and the Pharisees is a swan song of the gospel of Matthew.
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