Sing or say a hymn or song of praise.
The parable of the tenants
12 Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: ‘A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall round it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
6 ‘He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, “They will respect my son.”
7 ‘But the tenants said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9 ‘What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:
‘“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvellous in our eyes”?’
12 Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.
The Old Testament often uses the picture of a vine or vineyard to refer to Israel (eg Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15). Isaiah 5:2 uses language very similar to this parable to describe how God built a vineyard, fenced it, built a tower and dug a pit for pressing grapes. For Jews, brought up listening to scripture, the image was very familiar.
The leaders of the day knew that Jesus was telling this story about them (12:12). They were responsible for tending God’s vineyard and for giving him the fruit. Instead, they were often guilty of taking advantage of their position to gain wealth and prestige for themselves (12:38–40), dishonouring the God they were called to serve.
Some believe that verse 9 means that Christians now take the place of Jews as God’s people. Others believe that Jews are still the chosen people of God. It’s a complex and controversial issue.
Whatever your understanding of the New Testament position of Israel and the Church, there is a clear message to God’s servants, whether Jew or Gentile. We are to play our part in producing good fruit for his glory. The vineyard itself belongs to God, we are just servants, each entrusted with a particular role in the fruit-producing process. We are called to tend the vines and make them fruitful wherever God has placed us: in our families, our communities and our local churches.
Pray that you and your local church would produce fruit for God’s glory.
Deeper Bible study
‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.’1
Unless we are overfamiliar with this parable, we cannot fail to be moved by it. Initially, we are shocked by the story Jesus tells (vs 1–9). We are shocked at how the provision, protection and patience of the vineyard owner are met by the wickedness of the tenants. We are shocked by the callous and calculated way in which the tenants treat the owner’s beloved son. We are shocked because this parable – in which God is the owner, Israel the tenants, the servants the prophets and Jesus the Son2 – is so exactly played out by reality.
‘He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, “They will respect my son.” But the tenants said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him”’ (vs 6,7). Three days after telling this parable, Jesus was dead. Take a moment to allow yourself to be moved again by the scandal of what the Son of God, our precious Lord, endured. If shock is our reaction to the parable, then sadness is our response to its coda (vs 10–12).
The Jewish leaders knew their scriptures well. They knew how to interpret this parable (v 12), that it was another judgement against Israel for her fruitlessness before God.3 They knew that they stood complicit alongside their ancestors who slew the prophets (vs 3–5).4 They knew that Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah by his reference to Psalm 118 (vs 10,11). Yet they did not respond by fearing God and falling on his mercy; instead, they pursued their plot to kill God’s beloved Son – though they put this off for now because they feared the crowd and their support for Jesus (v 12).
‘But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.’5 Take time to fall again on God’s mercy and be thankful.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Ezekiel 40,41; 1 John 1
Pray for Scripture Union
The Youth Net, Local Mission Partner in Stafford, has delivered over 1,000 activity packs to existing youth groups and communities where they have strong links through their connect workers and community work. Pray that these packs will speak powerfully of God’s love.