Jesus tells parables and the meanings are pretty typically in need of explanation. In Mark 4, about six months ago, we studied Mark saying Jesus speaks in parables to keep the meanings hidden. While Matthew said he speaks in parables because people do not understand, Mark says it is so they will not understand. That is a difficult truth to interpret. Why would he do that? I told you the best explanation I ever heard was from Rev. Tom Long who said Jesus did not want people to come to faith too quickly – without counting the cost and understanding the sacrifice. Jesus warned of a faith that springs up like a scattered seed on rocky soil and shoots up, but then is burnt up when the sun comes out. Or like casting crowns says, that too many lose their follow-through between the altar and the door. Parables help believers – or people who are truly searching understand deeper truths.
On the surface, on the scene of this one, the New Interpreters Bible Commentary says it is more of an allegory. An allegory is defined as a symbolic representation…. a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about life. They call it an allegory because it is pretty much an open attack on those who stand against Jesus and those who follow Jesus as well as those who stand against Jesus have no trouble grasping its meaning. It history of what had been and a detailed prophecy of what was to come. And for us looking back on it, it is a history of what has been and a warning of what tends to be.
The scenario as Jesus lays it out is of a man who plants a vineyard. He put a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat, and put up a tower. If you are going to invest in a vineyard, it must be protected. There is a joke in the wine business – you can make a small fortune in wine, but you need a large fortune to begin. Get it? It is so fragile that you can start with a large fortune and end up with a small fortune. You can imagine the dangers the grapes would have faced. Nobody in the Short gap area has to hear a warning about animals or birds eating your fruits, vegetables, or flowers – – not to mention people who would just help themselves. So the owner puts up a hedge, we would think fence, puts in the wine vat, and puts up a tower from which people will stand guard watching for danger to the vines.
The owner leases or rents out the vineyard to “hirelings” and goes off to do his own thing. When it is time for the harvest, the owner sends a servant to check things out and get his “rent”. The Berean Study Bible says, “to collect his share of the fruit of the vineyard.…” As the story continues, they beat the servant and sent him away with nothing. Assuming there must have been a mix-up, the owner sends another servant and they treat him with contempt, threw stones at him, gave him a head injury. When the second one happened, the owner had to know it was not an accident (thinking of the second plane hitting the second tower – we all thought the first one was a fluke – we knew the second one was intentional). The owner sends a third one and they kill him. And on it went until it says the owner still had his beloved son, the one who would eventually be the landowner himself, and the owner says, “They will respect my son”. The son shows up and evil does what evil does, plotting against good and deceiving those perpetrating the evil – they tell themselves, “This is the heir – and one day he will be sending people to collect the rent, so let’s kill him and we will have it all for ourselves when the old man dies.” So they took him, killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
Jesus says, “So what will the vineyard owner do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.” Jesus then ties it to the famous Scripture at the time and even famous to us – The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
Everyone there would have known what Jesus was talking about. The OT prophets that came before were hated. A lost society has never been fond of being called to turn from their wicked ways – called to repent…Especially the leaders who are doing pretty well for themselves. The religious leaders wanted to harm Jesus but feared what the crowd would do to them, so they left Him and went away to scheme some more.
We all know that the beloved son in the story is Jesus and they would do to him exactly what the story says – take him outside the city and kill him.
What the people who were hearing this firsthand would have known that you might not is that the prophet Isaiah had a very similar story in Isaiah 5.
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Isaiah prophesied that the vineyard that went haywire would be destroyed and that vineyard was Israel.
The people would have had that in their minds when Jesus adds a new twist to the story – the vineyard is not going to be destroyed. Those who were overseeing it would be. And Jesus says the inheritance would be given to others… every commentary and theologian says the same thing – the “others” is the gentiles, including me and you.
I said earlier that for the people hearing it then it was a well-known history of what had been and a detailed prophecy of what was to come. And for us looking back on it, it is a history of what transpired and a warning of what tends to be.
NIBC says, “Beyond the immediate situation, the story has a timeless revelance as a powerful picture of failure in stewardship. You do not have to look for it – it is there. The stewards of the vineyard had betrayed the trust placed in them. The NIBC continues – The burden of that lament comes to all generations and to all people as stewards of the gift of God. It depicts the subtle way in which people reject their status as “trustees” and come to think of themselves as owners, with the “absentee landlord” forgotten. God is never really absentee, but society’s fondness for the word “mine” (still NIBC) and our distortion of it can push the Almighty, owner of all, into the background.
Illustration – When we decide who needs food and does not need food at the food pantry. The question is whose food is it? Is it yours? No. It is the Lord’s.
NIBC – we can hear it go bouncing all the way to the parable of the rich fool – my crops, my grain, my goods, my barns.
It is a warning to politicians and church leaders alike. NIBC – “The rulers of the Jews were under the error, so common in every religious and political institution, administrators of states and churches. To presidents, congress, senators… To bishops, superintendents, and pastors. But also a warning to church leadership, and church members. It is a warning to those in our country and the church. “Reagan – “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
It matters how we vote and how we operate the church. It all belongs to God. He has entrusted us for a season with the greatest country ever on the earth and he has entrusted us with the church for this season.
I am a steward of God’s great gifts, of the church, of my possessions, and my citizenship in the United States.
Finally – end with salvation – Jesus was not killed for nothing – it was for God’s offer of salvation to you and me.