In chapter twenty-one of the Gospel of Mathew, Jesus has entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and gets into a run in with the chief priests and Pharisees. They question the source of his authority. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (21:23). In response to their question regarding his authority to cleanse the temple Jesus breaks into three parables of judgment the first two of which use the imagery of a vineyard.

For a first century Jew the allusion to vineyard found in the writings of Isaiah was unmistakable (Isaiah 5:1-7). The Jewish nation, as the vineyard of God, was a familiar prophetic picture and a metaphor for the house of Israel and the people of Judah.

The parable is unmistakably direct in its message and verse forty-five tells us that when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables (both the first and then second parable), they realized that Jesus was speaking about them. Jesus was not merely critiquing temple leadership he was now tearing it to shreds while pronouncing judgment on them.

The parable of today’s Gospel needs some attention for it is beautifully woven to encompass salvation history in ten verses.  The parable begins with a situation that was business as usual in Roman-occupied Palestine. In the time of Jesus, Palestine was a troubled place with little luxury. Hence, culturally, the leasing of land to tenant farmers was a common experience.

While many of these absentee landowners were foreigners who lived in the far-flung territories of the Roman Empire it was not uncommon for the Jews to be landowners.  The rent was paid in any of three ways. It might be a money rent; it might be a fixed amount of the fruit or grain, or it might be an agreed percentage of the crop. Those who failed to meet the landowner’s standards would be removed from the land and landowning elite could usually pay others to remove them forcefully if necessary.

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