Titles can often be misleading. Newspapers are notorious for being intentionally ambiguous with their headlines, because they want us to read the article. An article might read, “Experts Say Dates are Good for Teens.” Then, once you begin reading the article you find that they are taking about the fruit, not a social event. Titles can also emphasis the wrong part of a story.
Jesus did not give titles to his parables. He did not begin them by saying, “Now listen to this one. I like to call it ‘The Parable of the Lost Coin.’” Nor were the titles of Jesus’ parables given by the evangelists who wrote the gospels. The titles were given by scholars and church leaders through the centuries, as a convenient way to discuss and preach about such passages.
The parable in our text today is known as “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.” In this parable we follow the dastardly deeds of the tenants of the vineyard as they mistreat and insult the emissaries of the vineyard owner. Finally, they kill the son of the vineyard in a bid to gain the son’s inheritance. This is seemingly the final straw that will move the vineyard owner to action (not included in the parable). Now, those evil and wicked people will finally get what is coming to them for their evil actions.
The parable, however, is not about the tenants. They are important characters but they are not the main characters of this story. As I said before, titles can be misleading. This parable begins with “’A man planted a vineyard…” The vineyard owner is the main character in this story. As the story progresses, there are more references to him than to the wicked tenants. The story even ends by asking a question about the vineyard owner, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?”
If I had a chance to name this parable, I would call it “The Longsuffering Vineyard Owner.” We are so familiar with this parable that we do not give it a lot of deep thought as we read through it, but what vineyard owner would exercise as much restraint as the one in this parable? If I were the vineyard owner, the parable would have been much shorter. After the first altercation with my representative, I would have been all over them. They would have been removed from my vineyard and punished to the fullest extent of the law (and more, if I could get away with it). There would have been no second or third person sent. We never would have made it to the fourth incident, where I send my son.
Let’s face it, this vineyard owner is crazy. Even the meekest milquetoast person among us would not be this longsuffering, tolerant and patient. Perhaps an even better title would be, “The Wimpy and Crazily Spineless Vineyard Owner.” By concentrating on the wicked actions of the tenants, we miss the insanely generous actions of the vineyard owner. In focusing on the tenants, we miss the most beautiful part of the story: the image of God that is presented.
Jesus’ Jewish audience would certainly have known that throughout the scriptures Israel was presented as a vineyard and God was the vineyard owner. The longsuffering vineyard owner is God himself. How fortunate we are indeed that God is tolerant of our foolish responses to him. How fortunate we are that God’s love is so intense that He does not give up on us despite our continual rebellion against him. How fortunate we are that he loved us enough to send his son!
The photo is of a news headline regarding a contest of tight rope walkers doing solo crossing of the Han River in Seoul.