“So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.”
Jesus often spoke in parables. They were intended as a way of teaching that subverted the expected outcome of a story. According to theologian Peter Rollins, “A parable is a discourse that is designed to send you off course and onto a new course.” He continues, “A parable is supposed to disrupt your thinking. Everything you think of as moral and good or right, parables have this interesting and disturbing tendency to turn it on its head.” The parables Jesus told were used to teach difficult concepts in ways that were approachable by the common people. While they might not have been stories that literally took place, they were stories that taught truths about life with God.
The parable for today, the “Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” teaches about people’s inability to properly care for God’s world. The landowner who planted the vineyard left it in the hands of the tenants as he went to another country. The hearers of the parable are expecting that the tenants will be the heroes of the story, reaping more grapes and making more wine than expected. However, every servant the landowner sends to check in on the land, the tenants brutally kill. Jesus told this parable as a way of alluding to the way Israel rejected and killed the prophets of old. The people were given chance after chance with the landowner when the landowner finally sent his son. However, the people squandered that chance as they killed even the landowner’s son.
The scripture says that the religious leaders with whom Jesus was speaking realized what he meant by this parable. They realized that Jesus was drawing a parallel with the wicked tenants and the religious leaders of his time. They realized that Jesus was claiming that God sent him, giving him more authority than they were willing to give him. Their reaction to this parable was evidence of Jesus’ wisdom in telling the parable. Rejection was looming. The religious leaders were waiting to be the heroes of the story and they were disturbed when they realized that they were the ones responsible for the death of the landowner’s son. They were the rejectors.
As we read this parable today, we must reflect on our roles in the story. We are the ones God has entrusted with the care and keeping of the world. Are we listening? Are we looking for those God has sent to us? Are we paying attention? Or are we so focused on producing fruit, are we so focused on protecting our little section of the world that we have lost sight of the purpose God gave us to begin with? Who have we rejected that has represented God for us? It is of these rejections that we must repent in hopes for new life.
Loving God, you are so gracious to us. You send us opportunity after opportunity to engage with you. You give us chance after chance to be a part of something bigger than us. We confess that we squander these opportunities. We are among the tenants who reject the ones you send us. Give us grace and open our hearts. Amen.