He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’”
“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!” Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
As the religious authorities stood silent, caught in their own trap, Jesus addressed the people directly with a parable which went right to the heart of the matter.
The people were God’s vineyard. The religious authorities were the tenants charged with the responsibility of caring for and developing the vineyard for its Owner. However, the tenants usurped the Owner’s authority, refused any accountability to him and ran the vineyard for themselves, badly mistreating any genuine representatives the Owner sent to them.
Finally the Owner sent his dearly loved son, in the hope that here at least was someone they might respect. Far from it. The tenants saw their opportunity to get rid of the Owner once and for all and secure the vineyard for themselves. They threw the son out of his vineyard and murdered him.
Christ’s analysis could not have been clearer. In his love, God had sent his only Son, the rightful heir and King. He was now among them. He had come to them not as a tyrant but in humility, riding on a donkey. But like the tenants in the story they were about to throw him out of the city and to murder him.
The insult and the evil behind it are simply breathtaking. Not only were they robbers, they were about to become murderers. They knew that Jesus was true, yet they put him on a cross anyway. They would not have this man as King. Even though the vineyard never belonged to them, but was just entrusted to them, they refused to acknowledge any ultimate Owner, and took their refusal to the extreme.
But the parable wasn’t finished. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” Perhaps the tenants hadn’t even asked themselves the question. But did they really think that almighty God would let them live out their evil without any intervention on his part ever? Did they think that the Owner of the vineyard would turn a blind eye to their killing of his Son and allow them to continue to enjoy the fruit?
The world has not heard the last of Jesus. It can’t take the owner and murder him and think it will forever get away with it.
In addition to being short-sighted, their actions were also tragically foolish. In fact, this is the ultimate foolishness, the ultimate unreality of which we humans can be capable: to live our life as if there was no God, as if we created ourselves or were produced somehow through the blind impersonal forces of nature (wherever they came from) and therefore can live without any accountability, doing what we please, taking refuge in agnosticism if the uncomfortable presence of God makes itself felt.
And yet remarkably, incredibly, God was going to use the ultimate expression of their defiance of the Creator, to construct a vast and wonderful new project, of which the Son they had murdered would be the cornerstone. Despite the hatred and rebellion against him, God does not give up. He is God. He will fulfil his purpose to build his church, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit, of which everyone who trusts in his Son will be an eternal part.