33 “Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35 But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same. 37 Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39 So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him. 40 When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”
41 The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”
42 Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’ 43 I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44 Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”
45 When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them— they were the wicked farmers. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.
This parable appears in Mark (12.1-12) and Luke (20.9-18) as well but Matthew’s account is unique in one feature. He has the religious leaders answer Jesus’ question about what the landowner will do, while Mark and Luke have Jesus answer his own question. The answer is the same in all three, the only difference is who is speaking. This is interesting because the answer represents what we might expect the landowner to do more than what he actually does (note how Jesus asks the question). The landowner represents the Father, the servants he sends represent Israel’s prophets, the son represents Jesus, and the tenet farmers represent Israel’s religious leaders. They have mistreated the prophets just as described here and they are about to kill the son, but as the son hangs dying, he does the opposite of what this parable suggests: he asks the Father to forgive those killing him. Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Paul of Tarsus show us that grace extends even to Israel’s religious leaders, even to the wicked tenet farmers. The Father doesn’t reject anyone who doesn’t reject Jesus, no matter what.
Which is good news because the point of this parable is not for us to read it and think, ‘wow, glad I’m not a Pharisee.’ As we read through the Gospels we continually encounter dumb disciples and self-pious religious leaders. We can tend to think that we are somehow removed from both of these groups, that we stand apart from them and their problems, that we understand Jesus in a way they don’t. But this is never as true as we think and even less so if we remain blind to the fact that their problems are our problems. We are the dumb disciples. We are the pious religious leaders. We are the wicked tenets who have trouble remembering that the work we do (all the work we do) is for God first and not for ourselves first. But Jesus dies even for those who kill him and he is raised from the dead even for those who put the stone in front of the tomb. We can confront our own sinful condition (our dumbness and self-piety) head-on because it is already covered by God’s infinite, unlimited grace.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.