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 have his inheritance.’ (Matthew 21:37-38)
Jesus’ parables were not just good stories meant to convey a point. No, he used parables as swords. I imagine that many within earshot of his parables would nod in agreement until Jesus reached the end of the parable. You see, it is tempting to see yourself as the good guy in the parable – the loving father, the one using his talents for God’s glory – but Jesus didn’t tell parables so we could improve our self-esteem by relating to the hero of his story. By the time Jesus reaches the end of his parables, most of them bring the bitter truth of conviction for the audience.
So it goes with the Parable of the Tenants. Jesus tells this story to a group of religious upper-crusters. These were the pious, educated, ceremonially clean guys – the chief priests and Pharisees. In the Parable of the Tenants, there was a farmer who leased his vineyard to some tenants. This was common in Jesus’ day. Wealthy farmers would lease their land to tenants so the farmer could run multiple operations at one time. The farmer owns the place, the tenant stays and works it. The fruit belongs to the farmer.
At harvest time, the farmer sends his servants to get the fruit of the vineyard – and the tenants assault them. The farmer sends more – surely the first time was a mistake – and the tenants attack these servants, too.
The farmer sends his son.
The tenants are not only jealous of the son’s claim to the fruit, they are jealous of his status as the farmer’s son. He is a privileged man, the heir to the fortune of the farmer. Their jealousy ignites and they murder him.
As the upper-crusters hear this parable, they imagine the rage of the farmer. Jesus asks them what the farmer would do to the murderous tenants in this scenario. The upper-crusters respond:
“He will put those wretches to a miserable death…” (Matthew 21:41)
Of course, the upper-crusters are like the wretches in the story. Though they don’t realize it just yet, they are condemning themselves as they speak. They intend to do to Jesus what the tenants did to the farmer’s son – and for the same reasons.
Be careful – don’t condemn the upper-crusters, because Jesus is also talking about you.
We are tenants of the earth. We don’t own a molecule of it. We don’t own our lives, either. But we want to claim them. When God comes after our lives, we are all too prone to reject him. We are prone to start an insurrection against his reign over our lives. Don’t believe me?
Do you surrender your will to God’s on a daily basis?
Have you ever read Scripture and decided a command was for someone else because you didn’t want to obey?
Have you ever done something in God’s name to make yourself look good?
My answers to these questions convict me. I am guilty. Too often I seek my own will, explain away commandments, and do the right thing for the wrong reason. I join the insurrection.
If you too have joined the insurrection and assembled among the ranks of wretches, Jesus offers a way out. His parables are intended to instruct and convict, but not condemn. By getting to the gritty, painful truth Jesus unearths our need for a savior. And of course, he offers himself as that savior.
Jesus is king. He owns this place and he owns us. He wants the best for our lives. When we stop our rebellion and repent of our insurrection against his reign, we will taste more of his fruit. We may rebel, but God is faithful and longsuffering. He made a way, and his name is Jesus.