Matthew 21 3 3-43
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people. “Here’s another story. Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits.
“The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his tether. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.’
But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. ‘This is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all for ourselves.’ They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him. Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?”
“He’ll kill them – a rotten bunch, and good riddance,” they answered. “Then he’ll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it’s time.”
Jesus said, “Right- and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles: The stone the masons threw out is now the cornerstone. This is God’s work; we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!
“This is the way it is with you. God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed.”
Today, we re-enter the conversation that began last week, when Jesus responded to the chief priests and elders of Israel. In that passage, the parable Jesus used explained that the kingdom of God belonged to those who obeyed the word of the Lord and took it to heart, even belatedly, not those who just nodded in agreement but did not form themselves to His will. In this parable, Jesus’ teaching becomes more pointed and foreshadows the Passion, and warns of an even greater danger to those who do not listen to the prophets and the Word.
Seen from today, the foreshadowing is obvious. Jesus predicts His own death at the hands of the Israelites, and renders His judgment on their motives. The Israelites of that time had forsaken the will of the Lord and wanted to rule in temporal fashion. God had given the Israelites the land in order for them to become priests to the world, to convert the nations through their example of piety and fidelity. In essence, they had kept the produce to themselves, and refused to act as tenants and stewards. Jesus tells them this parable in order to explain what will happen if they do not accept the word of the prophets and of the Word Incarnate.