Listen To Another Parable
Matthew 21: 33 — 43
In the previous reading (verses 23 — 32) our Lord, whose authority had been challenged by the senior Jewish officials at the Temple, very carefully challenged them to take a look at themselves and to see that they were setting a poor example for people to follow. Before they can utter a word in their self-defence he quickly adds another challenge: "Now listen to another parable." This demonstrates how earnest he is to help them see past their own self-satisfaction and adopt a more humble and open attitude to God's unfolding plan of salvation. Sadly, we know from verse 46, that Jesus failed in his outreach.
(For an overview of this text, read The Gospel Story by R. Cox).
Some Notes On the Text
(Using U.B.S. Translator's Guide: Matthew, as key guide.)
Jesus is emphatic: "Listen to another parable" implying that he will go on and on giving examples to break through their seemingly impregnable fortress mentality! We should remember that our Lord's technique is to use parables to stun with maximum impact in the hope that they will cause a person to come back to them later and reflect on the meaning. Parables are stories from which understanding comes, eventually, to those who are seeking it as they would look for treasure!
"There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers, and went away on a journey."
This is one of those occasions we must read the Scripture our Lord is referring to, viz. Isaiah 5: 1 — 7; noting that Jesus focuses not so much on the vineyard, but on those who are entrusted to nurture it.
We should note that the landowner did not leave permanently, but signalled he would one day return, at a time unspecified.
Even before returning, the landowner, when harvest time approached, dispatched his representatives to collect the fruit he expected. The time between planting and the first grape harvest was three to five years. The tenants responsible for the vineyards should have known that he would return when he chose, and that, since the vineyard belonged to the landowner, he had a right to expect an appropriate harvest: that is, the right fruit and the right amount.
Verse 35 and 36
The tenants seized the landowner's representatives; one was flayed (i.e. beaten till there was no skin left on his body), one was killed, and the other was stoned to ensure there were no witnesses.
A larger contingent than the previous was sent by the landowner but they were treated in the same way.
Verse 37 and 38
In a final call to yield up the harvest that was expected the landowner sent his son to them, thinking he, at least, would be shown proper respect. Realising he was the heir to the vineyard, the tenants conspired to kill him and hijack possession of it. This was quite a realistic plan. Whether wrongly or rightly, the tenants reasoned that if there were no other heir, the property would become theirs at the death of the owner. This verse reinforces the idea that the reference to "his son" in verse 37, means his only son. (U.B.S.)
So they took him captive, led him outside the walls, and executed him.
Here ends the parable.
Our Lord asks bluntly:
The senior and very learned authorities have no hesitation in answering this rather obvious question:
Our Lord has made some progress. The only problem is, the venerable authorities to whom he is showing the utmost respect in the circumstances, fail to get the connection. They don't have the slightest idea that their behaviour could lead them to act exactly as did the tenants in this parable. Jesus therefore appeals to their love of the Scriptures, and on this occasion, quotes from Psalm 118: 22 and 23. Hinting that they appear to have never really sought the true and full meaning of the words, he says:
Finally, realising that he may as well just be talking to himself, Jesus makes his boldest statement yet:
All is not lost, the kingdom has not been taken from them, since this warning is not just for them, but for all who exercise authority in the kingdom down through the ages. Nevertheless, it is a very firm, clear, and forthright call to them and all who would perform their function in God's kingdom, to review their actions and amend any behaviour which does not measure up.
Adam Clarke offers a helpful comment.
This passage, as applied by our Lord to himself, contains an abridgment of the whole doctrine of the Gospel.
St Jerome, a Northern Mediterranean Biblical scholar of the 4th century, unsurpassed in his knowledge of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chaldean, and the Bible, made a very important statement when commenting on this passage:
'When God is said to doubt about the future,
Any hint in this account of a warning is given in the future tense. But only the spiritually shortsighted will assume it will always be that way. God allows us to choose whether or not we take the call and teaching of his Son seriously. And he gives times for us to review our position and performance. The same challenge to the Jewish authorities confronts us. This is intended to be encouragement that despite our weaknesses and distractions, and all that goes with being very human in difficult circumstances, there is always hope while we are trying to make a better effort for God. So let's encourage one another to persevere and not become preoccupied with either our weaknesses not lack of progress, but keep our focus on the Son who will return in due season.
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