One of the most unique and historical things that people know about Jesus is the fact that he often taught using parables. The interpretation of these parables is frequently easy, though some of them are complex and take a bit of study. Each of these parables was told by Jesus in a specific context, which if it were known would probably help in the interpretation. More often than not, the parables of Jesus are simply recorded and not set within the context that surrounded him when he used them.
However, with the parable Jesus uses today, we are given the time, location and circumstances surrounding the telling. Jesus is in Jerusalem during the last week of his earthly ministry. Since the triumphal entry into the city and the cleansing of the temple, the conflict with the Jewish authorities is growing. They are questioning the legitimacy of this authority, seeing him as one who is stirring up trouble by his claims and actions.
Here, Jesus is teaching openly in the temple and he is standing face to face with the very Jewish authorities who seek his arrest (and death). They and the crowd are his audience, but it will become obvious that this parable is spoken directly to the Jewish authorities. Everyone present knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. Jesus tells a story about a man who builds a fully functioning vineyard, which he then leases to tenants (vinedressers).
Jesus’ Jewish audience would have quickly realized that this story is a parallel to Isaiah 5:1-7, which is known as “The Song of the Vineyard.” In the song God builds a vineyard, the best that could be built, and he uses the “choicest vines.” He returns looking for good grapes, but only finds bad. The moment Jesus began his parable, everyone knew that the owner of the vineyard is God, and that the vineyard represents Israel. To this mix Jesus adds those who are set up to be in charge of the vineyard. It was obvious that the tenants in parable are the very authorities to whom Jesus is speaking.
The parable serves as a short history of Israel. God the Father and vineyard owner had sent many envoys to the vineyard of Israel. Prophets were sent with the word of God. Most were ill treated and rejected and some were even killed. Finally, the son of the vineyard owner was sent. The tenants, realizing that he was the heir and wanting the vineyard for themselves, decided to kill the son. Jesus lets the Jewish authorities know that he understands exactly what they are planning. He also answers their earlier question regarding his authority. Jesus is sent with the authority of the vineyard owner, God. He is the Son, the heir and the stone which the builders had rejected, and as such he has all authority.
The parable sets the Jewish authorities on notice of their coming judgment, but what does it say to us? We need to remember why the son was sent to the vineyard in the first place. He was sent to collect the grapes that belong to his Father. We are those grapes. We are the produce from the vineyard that belongs to God. The son came and gave his very life to secure those grapes for his Father.
We are at the midpoint of Holy Week. Tomorrow and Friday we will remember and commemorate what happened to the Son in the vineyard. It happened for us, the grapes of God’s vineyard. We are redeemed for the vineyard owner by the son. That is how much God loves these grapes.