Matthew 21: 33-46
We heard Jesus tell the Parable of the Vineyard Tenants earlier against the Pharisees. Jesus condemning the Pharisees; well that’s nothing new. \But Jesus didn’t start this dispute with the Pharisees. Go back in the verses preceding our Gospel Lesson, and we find these Pharisees confronting Jesus as he was teaching. By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” The reality was that there was nothing Jesus could say that would be enough proof for them.
So Jesus doesn’t try to explain who he is, he shows he is the Christ by how he can teach and speak, and he tells them this parable of the tenants in the vineyard. A parable can use any imagery to illustrate a point, but Jesus uses a vineyard very intentionally. It’s an image God used throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. You may have noticed the two great examples in our readings from Isaiah 5, and from our Psalm this morning, Psalm 80.
Isaiah 5 was a poem God gave through Isaiah describing his people Israel. They were like a beloved vineyard that he planted. A vineyard that was not to just look beautiful, but to yield good grapes that would render fine wine. But the vines didn’t produce accordingly, the grapes were wild, bitter instead of sweet. So God said he would tear down the walls protecting the vineyard, allowing it to be trampled upon, for wild thorns to choke it, and he allowed no rain to fall on it. This indeed happened after Isaiah’s time, as God allowed his once great and faithful kingdom to be conquered by the Babylonions for their lack of thanks and remembrance of him.
Similarly, Psalm 80 described how God brought this vine of his people out of slavery in Eygpt, how he drove out unbelevers from the promised land, giving this vine a fertile place to grow and prosper. Nevertheless, as we heard from Isaiah, this vine didn’t produce as it ought, and God allowed the vineyard to be overrun by the world around it. The Psalm described the plea of the faithful remnant towards God, that he would save those who are faithful and restore this vine.
Both Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80 were texts that the Pharisees would have been very familiar with. These were texts that the Pharisees and scribes were supposed to be authorities over and teachers of. They would have recognized this vineyard imagery. So Jesus uses this very same imagery, and to display his authority as the Christ, as the Son of God, and therefore as God himself, Jesus then builds off this imagery to teach further, and show the Pharisees how they really don’t understand God’s Word at all.
In addition to God’s vineyard, Jesus introduces in his parable there are tenants, workers who have been placed in charge of the wellbeing of this vineyard. The vineyard is still the House of Israel, the Jews, but the tenants are their earthly leaders.. The tenants are the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Priests, anyone else who was spiritually in charge of God’s people throughout history.
To briefly recap the parable, the master sent various servants to go to the tenants and collect the vineyard, which represent the various prophets and leaders God sent to his people in the Old Testament. But just as the tenants beat, shamed, and even killed the servants, so too we see that most, if not all of God’s prophets and servants of the Old Testament were despised and treated shamefully by his people, especially those he had given authority over. Think of Moses and his struggled, think of Elijah, or even John the Baptist, who would be beheaded for his faithfulness.
But then God the master finally sends more than just a prophet, he sends his own Son, who bears the same authority as himself. The tenants act wickedly even when the Son comes, which corresponds to these Pharisees and religious leaders who are rejecting Jesus as God’s Son. They may not be kings over the people., but are who are to lead God’s people in his Word. Rather than helping the people recognize Jesus as the Christ, which is their most important job, they become envious of him. They wished to kill him so that they may remain the authorities over God’s Word and over the people, just as in the parable the tenants killed the son so that they might take his inheritance of the vineyard.
When Jesus finished the parable, he asked all of the crowd, not just the pharisees, who were listening “What will the master of the vineyard do to these tenants who put his son to death?” And they responded correctly: He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons”.
Jesus then quotes another Old Testament verse, from Psalm 118 “The Stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it’s marvelous in our eyes?
This is how Jesus demonstrates his authority to the Pharisees. He takes the Old Testament Scriptures that they are supposed to be authorities over, and he shows them that though they might have studied, even memorized, they don’t understand what it is really about. All of the Old Testament points toward Jesus as the Christ, and here they are rejecting him.
And Jesus shows how he knows the Pharisees hearts; that they want to put him to death. He has foretold here days before it would happen. And indeed we’re told that the Pharisees wanted to put him to death after this, but they were afraid of the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. Not all the people understood who Jesus was as Christ y,et, but in hearing his teaching, they know he must truly be some kind of voice from God.
With all of this vineyard imagery, we can’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ own words about the vine from John 15: 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. It is only through rooting ourselves in Jesus that we can be the branches who bear good grapes too.
Jesus in his sacrificial death, bore the perfect fruit on our behalf, and from the fruits of his death he pours out the finest of wines, his blood that he gives to us to drink.
When we root ourselves in Christ, we are grafted into Jesus’ vineyard, we become branches bearing fruit pleasing to God, all because of Christ. We will not be cut off and thrown in the flames.
But we should not be surprised when the unbelieving world desires to treat us the same as it did our Lord Jesus. It will hack away at us, it will try to burn us down. Like thorny they weeds will try to squeeze and choke our trust in Jesus, and others will try to trample us down like wild boars. But this is not a sign that God is angry with us. If anything, it is a sign that we are faithful, and so the sinful world cannot help but lash out angrily at us.
Our Psalm spoke to this notion. It is the prayer of the faithful, not just in the times when this Psalm was written, but for just as much for us today. Here again the final verses from it that we prayed
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face! But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
Root yourself in Christ, his death on our behalf, and we will be branches bearing the good fruit. The world may try to tear God’s vineyard down, but his face is truly shining upon us, he is pleased with us, and we will be saved. In Jesus’ name, Amen.