The parable of the vineyard tenants in Matthew 21:33-44 is strikingly poignant. A master builds a vineyard in his own land, from his own money, and by his own strength. He places several important things in this vineyard which are meant to teach the Pharisees about their role and failure (v 45).
1. The master plants. The tenants were not asked to plant this vineyard, only to keep it. The wise farmer knows when the time to plant is, how to prepare the ground, and the resources needed to keep it going. All these things the Master (God) provided. The Pharisees (this is generic reference to all Israel’s leaders at Jesus’ time, including scribes, teachers, lawyers, and even the priesthood) did not create or shape the Israelites. They didn’t bring them into the land. All the people who sat at their feet (they loved the attention) were given to them for a purpose. The purpose was to yield a produce: a people of holiness and righteous living. But in this story the tenants were not using the vineyard well. They were thinking only in terms of what they could salvage for themselves.
2. The master fences. The fence would be a protection against common animals. The master could have asked the tenants to stand guard night and day to drive out all vermin. Instead, he prepares a safe environment to give the grapes their best chance at being healthy. God made the Pharisee’s task relatively simple and safe: teach the people how to be merciful, do good deeds, and abstain from evil. God would do the work of protection. But, in the gospels, we read that the Pharisees compromised morals (to the point of crucifying Jesus) for the feigned hopes of keeping their power.
3. The master digs a winepress. The winepress is the machine/place which will transform the grapes into grapejuice. This is the purpose of owning a vineyard. The fresh grapejuice of harvest was something to be celebrated (feast of booths). But instead of reaping a good harvest and turning it into something worth sharing, the tenants likely were embarrassed at their shoddy work, horded what they had, and rejected God’s messengers.
4. The master built a tower. Towers in ancient times were a fortified protection/deterrent to human enemies. This protects the vineyard against invaders or robbers. The tenants are perfectly prepared to retain all their charge. God had given the leaders of Israel all these opportunities, but what had they produced? When Jesus, the last and most important messenger, comes, he finds a starved and oppressed people. They hunger and thirst for righteousness because their tenants had been starving them of mercy and good examples of service.
Our application? It is not to rain on the Pharisees. It is to look within ourselves and see that our lives are a vineyard and we are the tenants. God has showered us with love, blessings, and protection. He made us, transformed us, and caused us to be His people. He has given us a purpose and a pattern. He has give us comfort and strength in our struggles. The question is: what crop are we yielding for Him? Do we observe our lives and find it lacking in good fruit? Does this cause us to reject His message because we are embarrassed? Do we tend to our lives for the false hope that it is for us, our using, our wants? Do we feel that if we reject Jesus we can somehow become the owners of our own destinies? Such attitudes are the target of Jesus’ parable. Do not be an unworthy tenant of God’s vineyard. Use all the tools He has provided to excel in love and good deeds. Then, when He calls, share the bountiful crop He has produced. Then you can rejoice at His return.