Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around 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 marvelous in our eyes’[a]?”
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.
Building The Right Life
The Pharisees were building. They learned the biblical texts that were available at the time. They didn’t just study them, but they memorized them. Like Awana and other children’s Bible clubs, they devoted time to reciting scripture. They worked hard on elaborate liturgy and mastered public prayer. They gave regularly to the poor and fasted each week. They debated for hours as to whether their particular interpretation of scripture was right. They created hell.
The kind of spirituality that frets and worries over whether each detail is taken care of is hellish. It does not build a sense of liberty and life. The building that Jesus built required one stone around which every other stone would find its right place. When one builds all the practices of religion first and then ADDS Jesus, we find that he doesn’t fit. We have a choice to tear down our building and start with Jesus or we can go on cherishing a building that is dysfunctional and corrupt.
When Jesus told this parable, the audience probably thought he was talking about Israel being occupied by Rome to begin with. However, as he progressed, it would be more evident that he was talking about the leaders of Israel. He was not talking about the common people of Israel, but he was talking about those who laid out how the faith should be lived. Like many in church history, the leaders of Israel were building a little empire for themselves. They were seeking out power and influence. When we build and shape the ‘vineyard’ for ourselves, we figuratively kill Jesus like the Israelite leaders did. When we start with Jesus and walk with Jesus, the kind of faith we build is centered on a relationship.
In this busy and pragmatic age we are not good at relationships in general. Facebook connects us with hundreds of people, but how many know us? By how many am I known? Relationship exposes the heart in ever deepening conversation and longs to see the depths within another person. It encompasses the intellect, the emotions, and the physical. As we reveal all these aspects of who we are to Jesus and have him reveal himself to us through fellowship, Bible reading, and spiritual disciplines so our lives are transformed in ways that slavish rule-following can not do.
Like many people who have built their lives and reputations on behaving rightly and performance in assigned tasks, the Pharisees are furious when their life’s investments are shown to be bankrupt. The one who owns the land in which they live is about to judge them because they will kill his son rather than welcome him and relate to him.
I spend so much time escaping from thinking and feeling. I build into things that are not focused on you, Jesus. I want to love you in such a way that I am conversing with you as I play with my children and walk down the street. It happens to rarely. I am not aware that I am living in your world. I have a secular/sacred divide that comes from my education and my culture. I pray that you would continue to make it all sacred.
- What events in the temple does this parable follow?
- Who are the tenants and the messengers in the parable?
- How were the most religious people in Israel guilty of making the worst mistakes?
- How do religious people completely miss the point today?
- How is your life more centered on the cornerstone?