I love stories. I enjoy watching them in the form of film or theatre and take time to read them in novels and articles. The ones that stay with me for the longest are the ones that have somehow impacted me. It could be the epic scale or the hidden message, but these are the stories my mind would go back to the most.
Jesus used stories a lot. The stories, or parables had hidden meanings. Often you will find the disciples asking about the stories afterward the crowds had gone away or after they had thought about them. This parable is a little different because the listeners would understand the meaning without explanation.
In Matthew 21:23 we see Jesus entering the temple courts and teaching. While he is there the chief priests and elders try to undermine him with questions about his authority. Jesus answers them with two parables – both take place in vineyards. It is in the second parable that Jesus emphasises the meaning of the vineyard by more or less quoting a picture in Isaiah 5 – the vineyard is the people of Israel.
Those that were questioning Jesus would really know who the cast are in this parable without doubt.
The tenants who have been left in charge of the vineyard (the chief priests, elders, teachers etc…) kill the ones that are sent (the prophets) by the owner. When the owner sends his son, because he carries the authority of the father, to collect the fruit, the owner says, “They will respect my son.” But instead of respect, they kill him. The tenants think they will now inherit the vineyard since possession is theirs. Jesus asks what will be done with these evil tenants. The chief priests, elders and teachers reply is that they will meet a wretched end and the vineyard given to others.
Jesus then begins to open more scriptures to them. He wants them to understand and have opportunity to change their minds about how they will deal with the son that the vineyard owner has sent to them – about how they will deal with him. He talks about the stone that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone, the strength in the building. He is letting them know that he is the son that the owner sent and they are rejecting him. They will meet a wretched end and that they will not have an inheritance because it will be given to others (Gentiles). Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces and anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.
The religious leaders didn’t like what Jesus had to say. They did exactly what the parable said. They looked for a way to arrest him and to get rid of him. They rejected him.
The leaders took offence at what Jesus had said and their response was ugly. I can look at these people and think that they were stupid to react in that way, but, in reality, are we any different? What do we do when we feel challenged? Do we take offence? It is such a ‘human’ condition to be offended when we get corrected. It was one of the first things that Adam and Eve did when GOD pointed out their mistake. Instead of owning up to it, saying sorry and asking for forgiveness, they turned it back on GOD and told Him that He was to blame since He had put the snake and the woman in the garden. They could not own what they had done, it was someone else’s fault. They would not own what they had done, because it was offensive to hear that they were wrong.
The ugly response to correction in the temple courts was to arrest and sentence Jesus to death. How are we doing with being corrected by GOD? It kind of throws being offended by GOD’s correction into fresh light doesn’t it? I don’t want to sentence Jesus to death because I have taken offence at what GOD has said to me either in the Bible or through the words of someone He has given wisdom. I want my response to be to welcome Jesus into the vineyard that I am the just the tenant of. To know that I don’t own this little bit of land that I am on/in, but He does. I want to choose Him as my cornerstone.
Just a few notes on a cornerstone. This was the foundation stone that was set as reference for all the other stones. It determined the lines of the walls and position of the entire structure. It is an image that puts Jesus in the position that all things, decisions, attitudes and actions are measured against.