To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 37:3-4, 12-13,17-28; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46
This Parable is
known variously as the parable of the wicked tenants or the Parable of the
Vineyard. While the parable in Mark has been allegorised, it is not clear
whether there was a non-allegorical parable going back to Jesus. Those who are
of the opinion that there was a non-allegorical parable interpret it to mean
that just as the tenants took radical action, so radical action is required in
order to gain the kingdom. Others see the parable to mean that the kingdom will
be taken away from Israel’s false leadership and given to gentiles and sinners.
Still others see the parable to mean that God does not abandon and relentlessly
seeks and searches for them and longs for a response from them.
In Matthew, this parable is the center of Jesus’
threefold parabolic response to the chief priests and elders. The first of
these is about the two sons (21:28-32) and the third is about the great supper
(22:1-14). He also links it to the previous parable of the two sons by means of
common words like vineyard, son and the common theme of both which is doing
God’s will rather than paying lip service.
In Matthew, the one who gives the vineyard to tenants
is a “landowner” and not simply a “man “as he is in Mark. This helps Matthew to
use the term “Lord” towards the end of the parable. The vineyard is described
much like the one in Isa 5:1-7 which indicates that Matthew intends the
vineyard to be read as “Israel” which it is in Isaiah. If in Mark the man who
hired out the vineyard wants only his share, here he wants all the fruit. This
indicates that God’s claim on the human person and all possessions it total and
not partial. There are no half measures with God. It is all or nothing. The two
groups of servants which are sent before the Son probably represent in Matthew
the former and latter prophets whom God sent to Israel to bring the nation back
to him. It is only after the two groups of servants are abused and murdered
that the landowner decides to send his Son. In Matthew the son is first taken
out of the vineyard and then killed (unlike in Mark where he is first killed
and then thrown out of the vineyard) to correspond with what actually happens
at the passion and death of Jesus (27:32). In Mark the question about the
response of the owner of the vineyard is asked and answered by Jesus, while in
Matthew, Jesus asks the questions and the Jewish leaders answer and through the
answer pronounce their own condemnation. The tenants had been unfaithful and
will have to pay for this unfaithfulness. The quotation of Ps 118:22-23 here
results in increasing and intensifying the condemnation of the tenants to whom
what was given was given in trust. Since they have been proved untrustworthy
and unfaithful, they will be denied further tenancy and others will be given
the vineyard to tend.
The Jewish leaders realize that the parable is about them and this only hardens their stance against Jesus and strengthens their resolve to destroy him.
All that we possess is given to us in trust. This means that while we may use what we have, we have also to be concerned about those who do not have and be generous with them. Selfishness on our part leads to our thinking that we must use the things we have exclusively without even the thought of sharing them with others.