Jesus couldn’t have been more clear who this parable is against if He said the name of those wicked tenants rhymed with Blarisees. Their crimes are clear. The prophets were most mistreated by the very people they were sent to. It wasn’t the pagans, but the leaders of the people of Israel who beat them. Killed them. Stoned them. They would not be corrected. They would not return to God’s word. They believed that there was such a thing as God’s vineyard. They just hated that they didn’t own it.
The vineyard was Israel, God’s promised nation. It fought wars under Joshua. It walked through the sea by Moses. There was power there. The tenants of the vineyard wanted that. The control. They grew so desperate for that power that, when confronted with the prophets of the master, they committed atrocities to hold onto it. The Pharisees never stopped believing in the vineyard, in Israel. They just came to believe there was no real master of it. It’s how they could ever think, if we just kill this guy, nobody will take it from us. To watch this play out in parable only highlights the desperation that leads to worse and worse decisions. What will happen to those tenants when the owner of the vineyard comes?
What else could happen? 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. They see their position as under attack. It wasn’t. They were supposed to be the tenants because it was the master who put them there. The prophets weren’t sent to remove them, but to collect the fruits that belong to the master. To insist the institution stand apart from that purpose is to ask “what can I take from this?”, not “what would God give for it?”
It’s that second question we usually miss in this parable. It’s easy to stop here, find the Pharisees at fault, rejoice it’s been addressed, and pledge to do a better job, ourselves. This parable stands almost unique in the problem it presents us. We usually go looking for ourselves in parables and neglect to look for God. We turn them into fables with morals about how to lead good lives. The one stands apart because it’s almost hard to see where we would ever fit. The folks who rhyme with Blarisee are the tenants. God is the master. That the Son is given to death. We actually don’t look for ourselves here. Probably because there aren’t good guys. We’ll just be the ones who come later and clean up their mess.
So we’ll point out how power corrupts. Maybe even make it political. Find leaders who do not use their authority to serve others, but to make others serve them. Then we’ll somehow assume we’re immune to that because we have good intentions. The thing is, the Pharisees started out with the best of intentions too. Their intentions actually didn’t go bad until Jesus preached against them. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot be unwilling to be preached against from God’s word. None of us. The only ones who would not hear God’s word were the wicked tenants.
When we seek to replace them, even with the best of intentions of doing the best of jobs, to increase the harvest, to win something for the master, we ignore the question that matters. What would God give for His vineyard? We ignore the only one more desperate than the wicked tenants. The master who sends His Son. Do you think this was a surprise to Him? Truly? See how desperate the master was to collect what was produced in the vineyard. Think about the price He was willing to pay. Not just the death of His servants, but even the death of His Son. This wasn’t business. This was love. The Master was so desperate to collect you that He sent His son to claim you. It cost Him His life. He gladly paid it.
The vineyard was only ever planted to bring in the harvest to the Lord. The church only exists to save sinners. The stone that the builders rejected becomes something marvelous. The cornerstone. The rock on which everything is built. In His death for you, for all, He falls upon the evil one to crush Him. He buys you, not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious blood, His innocent suffering and death, that You would be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.
The church stands because God is a part of it. The vineyard is precious because the Lord visits it to collect sinners. The one thing the church cannot be about is its own influence. Either out of zeal, pride, or fear, it always becomes pathetic.
The institution that cares for itself never cares about the people inside it, only sees them as means to an end. Let that kind of vineyard be overrun. If this is where the Lord wishes to collect a harvest, look to Him to do it and rejoice. The church that is built on the cornerstone, Christ, will never carry the influence the world wants. He sent prophets to preach and die. He sent His son, not to build a kingdom in this world, but to win for you the next. Let go of the influence and return to the Lord and know you have been given the better gift, for it wast the Father who sent the Son to bear the cross to bring you to His side. It was the Son who died that you would have life everlasting.