This week's scripture from the Gospel of Matthew is a hum-dinger. Jesus tells a story that is violent and very much in-your-face. There are a lot of questions here to think about. And of course, there is no one correct answer. For me, this is the most interesting and challenging thing about reading the Bible. You get to read it and decide what it means for yourself and your life. So, in this reflection, I am just going to compile some thoughts and questions to get us started in thinking about this passage.
Here's the 30-second version:
Jesus' authority is being questioned by the religious leaders and this is the second of two stories that he tells them. A farmer planted a vineyard and builds a fence around it and a tall tower in order to watch over it. He rented the vineyard to some farmworkers and goes away on a trip. When it was time to pick the grapes, the farmer sent some of his servants to the vineyard to get his share of the grapes. But the farmworkers beat the servants and even killed some of them. The farmer decided to send a larger number of more servants to go get the grapes that belonged to him. The farmworkers beat and killed them, too. He decided to send his son, thinking that maybe the farmworkers didn't respect the servants. Maybe it would be different for his son. Nope. No dice. Before the son arrives the farmworkers in the tower see him coming. They said, “Here comes the farmer’s son. If we kill him, the farmer won’t send anyone else for the grapes and this vineyard will be ours.”
So, that happened.
Jesus ends the story in conversation with the religious leaders. They say “The farmer will get rid of those cruel, greedy farmworkers and get new honest, kind workers.” Jesus replies by quoting some scripture and saying yes. “God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and given to a different people,” he says. The scripture says then the religious leaders knew that Jesus was talking about them. (Sorry, maybe that was longer than 20-seconds?)
Soooo, let's jump in. This time of year at the church we talk about Stewardship. Our steward campaign is when we talk about taking care of the church and ask for our members to make their giving pledges for the following church year. To steward - as a verb - means to look after or take care of something or someone. Like the farmworkers are asked to take care of the Vineyard.
Thinking about this story can help us consider how we are practicing faithful stewardship of the places where we live but of our relationships as well. As we grow, learn, and move through the world we gain a sense of concern for the wider world - the word beyond just our neighborhoods. We are moved to take action and care for people and the earth. As we get older this becomes a greater responsibility as we see that people's decisions and choices have consequences. This parable or allegory that Jesus tells here in Matthew helps us to think about what responsible stewardship is and what God is calling us to do about it.
What are the "vineyards" in our lives and the world that God has placed in our care?
In this scripture passage remember that the religious leaders have been continually questioning Jesus' authority and Jesus responds with parables and stories. In this case, it seems to be more of an allegory. We learn from our English and literature teachers that an allegory is used as a popular form of writing (or storytelling here in Jesus' case) in which a story points to a hidden or symbolic parallel meaning. For example, certain elements in the story such as people, things, or events point to corresponding elements in another realm or level of meaning.
If you are ready to dive into sorting our the allegory that Jesus tells here, here are some things to think about: Jesus in this story seems to be referencing Isaiah 5:1–7. Read it here.
What similarities are there between Jesus’ parable and Isaiah 5?
Based on Isaiah 5, who might the landowner represent in Jesus’ story?
- Why do you imagine the landowner leaves?
- What might the vineyard symbolize in Jesus’ story?
In this parable the landowner lets others care for his vineyard.
- What might Jesus be saying about God?
- Who might the tenants symbolize?
The landowner sends slaves to collect the harvest.
- What do you imagine the landowner wants the harvest for?
- Who might the slaves symbolize?
The landowner finally sends his son.
- What happens to the son?
- Who might the son symbolize?
- What might be some meanings of the whole parable?
One interpretation of this parable views God as the landowner, the vineyard as God’s people, the tenants as the religious leaders, the slaves as God’s prophets, and the son as Jesus. Using this interpretation here are some more questions:
- What might Jesus be saying about himself? About the religious leaders?
- To whom does Jesus say the kingdom of God will be given? (See v. 43.)
- What does it mean to produce the “fruits of the kingdom”?
Some final thoughts:
God gives the tenants great responsibility.
- Why do you think God gives people responsibility?
- What “vineyards” has God given you? What or who are you called to care for?
- How can we be faithful stewards today of God’s creation? Of God’s people?