REJECTION AND RETRIBUTION
Jesus began to speak to them in parables. A man planted a vineyard. He put a hedge round about it, and dug a wine vat, and built a tower. He let it out to cultivators and went abroad. At the right time he sent a servant to the cultivators that he might receive from the cultivators his share of the fruits of the vineyard. They took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another servant to them. They wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. He sent yet another. They killed him. So they treated many others, beating some and killing others. He had still one person left to send, his beloved son. Last of all he sent him to them. “They will respect my son,” he said. But these cultivators said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What, then. will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and he will destroy the cultivators and he will give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this passage of scripture, “The stone which the budders rejected, this has become the headstone of the comer. This came from God, and it is in our eyes an amazing thing?” They tried to find a way to get hold.of Jesus, for they feared the crowd, for they were well aware that he spoke this parable against them. So they let him alone and went away.
We said that a parable must never be treated as an allegory, and that a meaning must not be sought for every detail. Originally Jesus’ parables were not meant to be read but to be spoken and their meaning was that which flashed out when first they were heard. But to some extent this parable is an exception. It is a kind of hybrid, a cross between an allegory and a parable. Not all the details have an inner meaning, but more than usual have. And this is because Jesus was talking in pictures which were part and parcel of Jewish thought and imagery.
The owner of the vineyard is God; the vineyard itself is the people of Israel. This was a picture with which the Jews were perfectly familiar. In the Old Testament it is vividly used in Isa.5:1-7, a passage from which some of the details and the language of this passage are taken. This vineyard was given every equipment. There was a wall to mark out its boundaries, to keep out robbers and to defend it from the assaults of the wild boars. There was a wine vat. In a vineyard there was a wine press in which the grapes were trodden down with the feet. Beneath the wine press was a wine vat into which the pressed-out juice flowed. There was a tower. In this the wine was stored, the cultivators had their lodging, and from this watch was kept for robbers at harvest time. The cultivators stand for the rulers of Israel throughout the history of the nation. The servants whom the owner sent stand for the prophets. Servant or slave of God is a regular title. So Moses was called (Josh.14:7). So David was called (2Sam.3:18). And the title occurs regularly in the books of the prophets (Am.3:7, Jer.7:25, Zech.1:6). The son is Jesus himself. Even on the spur of the moment the hearers could have made these identifications because the thoughts and the pictures were all so familiar to them.
The story itself is of what might well happen in Palestine in the time of Jesus. The country had much labour unrest and many absentee landlords. The owner of such a vineyard might be a Jew who had sought a more comfortable land than Palestine, or he might be a Roman who regarded the vineyard as an investment for his money. If the owner followed the law, the first time for collecting the rental would be five years after the planting of the vineyard (Lev.19:23-25). In such a case the rental was paid in kind. It might be a fixed and agreed percentage of the crop, or it might be a stated amount, irrespective of what the crop came to. The story is by no means improbable and tells of the kind of thing which did actually happen.
The parable is so full of truths that we can note them only in the briefest way.
It tells us certain things about God.
(i) It tells us of the generosity of God. The vineyard was equipped with everything that was necessary to make the work of the cultivators easy and profitable. God is generous in the life and in the world that he gives to men.
(ii) It tells us of the trust of God. The owner went away and left the cultivators to run the vineyard themselves. God trusts us enough to give us freedom to run life as we choose. As someone has said, “The lovely thing about God is that he allows us to do so much for ourselves.”
(iii) It tells us of the patience of God. Not once or twice but many times the master gave the cultivators the chance to pay the debt they owed. He treated them with a patience they little deserved.
(iv) It tells us of the ultimate triumph of the justice of God. Men might take advantage of the patience of God, but in the end comes judgment and justice. God may bear long with disobedience and rebellion but in the end he acts.
This parable tells us something about Jesus.
(i) It tells us that Jesus regarded himself not as a servant but as a son. He deliberately removes himself from the succession of the prophets. They were servants. He was son. In him God’s last and final word was being spoken. This parable was a deliberate challenge to the Jewish authorities because it contains the unmistakable claim of Jesus to be Messiah.
(ii) It tells us that Jesus knew that he was to die. The Cross did not come to him as a surprise. He knew that the way he had chosen could have no other ending. It is the greatness of his courage that he knew that and still went on.
(iii) It tells us that Jesus was sure of his ultimate triumph. He also knew that he would be maltreated and killed, but he also knew that would not be the end, that after the rejection would come the glory.
This parable tells us something about man.
(i) There could be only one reason why the cultivators thought they could kill the son and then enter into possession of the vineyard. They must have thought that the owner was too far away to act, or that he was dead and out of the reckoning. Men still think they can act against God and get away with it. But God is very much alive. Men seek to trade on their own freedom and his patience, but the day of reckoning comes.
(ii) If a man refuses his privileges and his responsibilities, they pass on to someone else. The parable has in it the whole germ of what was to come–the rejection of the Jews and the passing of their privileges and responsibilities to the Gentiles.
The parable closes with an Old Testament quotation which became very dear to the Church. The quotation about the stone that was rejected is from Ps.118:22-23. The rejected stone had become the stone that bound the corners of the building together, the keystone of the arch, the most important stone of all. This passage fascinated the early Christian writers. It is quoted or referred to in Ac.4:11, 1Pet.2:4,7, Rom.9:32-33, Eph.2:20. Originally, in the Psalm, the reference was to the people of Israel. The great nations which had thought of themselves as architects of the structure of the world had regarded the people of Israel as unimportant and unhonoured. But, as the Psalmist saw it, the nation which had been regarded as of no importance would, some day, in God’s economy, become the greatest nation in the world. The Christian writers saw in the Psalmist’s dream something which was perfectly fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
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