As we continue looking at “Passion Tuesday,” the Tuesday before our Lord’s death, we come to a parable sometimes called “The Parable of the Vineyard.” I prefer “The Parable of the Husbandmen,” because it focuses on those who were left in charge of the vineyard.
We’ll do this in two parts, because this post is long enough as it is. 🙂
33 Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.
35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.
38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
The Symbolism of the Vineyard
As with so many of the interactions that took place on this day, there was a significant Old Testament background. Here Jesus is obviously referring to the prophetic portrayal of Israel as God’s vineyard. We start with Psalm 80, where the psalmist calls on God, as owner of His vineyard, to protect His people.
Psalm 80:8, 14-15
8 Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.
14 Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine;
15 And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.
There is similar imagery in Isaiah 5, but this time there is something wrong with the vineyard.
Isaiah 5:1-2, 7
1 Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
The “wild grapes” here may refer to a plant which produced poisonous berries similar in appearance to grapes. Israel has brought forth idolatry, oppression, and “a cry” — stuff that is poisonous, not the true fruit they should have given their God.
Next, we come to Jeremiah, where the problem is the leaders:
Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.
These passages, and perhaps a few others, form the theological background for this parable. Remember, Jesus is speaking to those who knew the Old Testament Scriptures very, very well. They would recognise the Scriptural connection with His parable.
The Husbandmen and the Servants
As Jesus builds on the Old Testament symbolism, His point is clear. Israel is God’s vineyard. Israel’s leaders have been like the “pastors” (shepherds) described in Jeremiah, they have not cared for the vineyard. They have used it for their own benefit rather than for the Lord’s.
God had sent His servants, His messengers, but they had not heard. Remember, Jesus just challenged them twice over John the Baptist (see “By What Authority?” — The Claims of Messiah, “By What Authority?” — Jesus Answers the Question, and The Parable of the Two Sons). He claimed John was a servant of God, a messenger from the Lord of the vineyard, and they dared not deny it. Just like their fathers, they rejected the prophets.
In a sense, the Lord is still indirectly responding, in this parable, to their question on authority. The parable speaks of messengers who have been rejected — this is yet another rebuke of their refusal to believe John.
The Husbandmen and the Son
Jesus takes the discussion well past John, to their response to the heir. Now, the wicked husbandmen must face the Son of the vineyard’s Owner. The Jews wanted no Son of God, no Messiah to worship. To them, Messiah was the Son of David, a Warrior to follow in battle, One to bring peace and (especially) prosperity. (More on this in a later post.)
Jesus claims to be the Son of the Lord of the vineyard, and His allusion is obvious. He is the Son of God, but they want to keep what they think they have, so they will not receive Him. It is as if Jesus puts them on notice that He knows exactly what they had said in their secret council:
47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.
48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.
The chief priests, the council of the Sanhedrin, were all about their “place,” their position, just like the husbandmen in the parable. Jesus identifies this, and confronts them with their plan, identical to the plan of the husbandmen — the Heir must die:
49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,
50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
So it is with those who reject Christ today. It means nothing to them that Jesus died. They have something to which they cling, something they don’t want to give up. It may be pleasures they enjoy, or pride in “intellectual sophistication,” or fear of mockery and persecution. It may be they would have to begin to be honest in business dealings, or stop being selfish in their family relationships, or some other thing.
There is always something, something more important than the fact that the Son of God, the Heir of the vineyard, the One to whom they belong by right, has come. They don’t want to give up their place, their possession, or their pride. They might say they would never kill Him, but they will gladly ignore His death as a thing of no importance to them.
The spirit of the chief priests and scribes lives on today. The messengers have come, even the Son has come, and He is still rejected. The vineyard brings forth sour grapes, the false “pastors” tread the Lord’s portion under foot, and when the Son comes again, the nations will gather to fight Him.
Series Summary with links to further articles: “Passion Tuesday” / Crucifixion Tuesday