Renting out an apartment or home can be a dangerous business. I was talking with someone who is in that line of work earlier this week. He does not own the properties but does things like the showings, the maintenance calls, and knocks on the doors when rent is late to see when they might expect payment. I’m told that even with doing background checks and reference calls you may often end up renting to a tenant who trashes the property and/or refuses to pay rent. One tenant even emptied out the recycle bins and stole them. Out of concern for his safety he does not go alone when knocking on the doors to remind tenants that they need to go pay their rent. Often all he needs to say is, “You know why I’m here.” But a few times he has told testy tenants that he would press charges if they hit him. And when they don’t pay their rent, then the landlord goes through the process to evict the tenant. As I understand it, the tenants have several opportunities to repent and pay their rent. Eviction costs the owner about $500 – not to mention unpaid rent that they will never see. $500 is about what it costs in legal fees plus what they have to pay to have the warrant served. When the family is going to be evicted he comes with a new set of locks, which he installs after the officer enters the home with gun drawn and instructing the tenants to leave with whatever they want to keep. Clearly it is a risky and even dangerous business not only in terms of potential loss of income and damage to property that sometimes is so great that foreclosure on the property makes the most financial sense but also in terms of violence to those persons working for the business. Speaking of tenants paying rent, Jesus said,
- This parable is not difficult for us to understand, though you might find the sending of the Son surprising given how the servants had been treated.
- The decision to send the son is the climax to the whole parable. Instead of sending his son, he could have decided to seek justice from the authorities. Just as today one might have the officer serve the warrant with gun drawn, the master could have done something similar back then. But instead he sends his son, unarmed. I had always thought that it is to be expected that the tenants would treat the son the same way that they had treated the servants. However, Ken Bailey shares a story from the early 1980s about King Hussein of Jordan to illustrate what the master is doing. The king had been told that there were roughly 75 army officers plotting in a nearby barracks to overthrow the government. Naturally, the police asked the king for permission to surround the barracks and arrest these officers. But instead the king decided that he would walk unarmed into the room where they were plotting this coup. He did so and told them that if they did what they were planning it would throw the whole country into a civil war and many innocents would die. So he said, “Here I am! Kill me and proceed. That way, only one man will die.” Their reaction was to rush forward and kiss his hand and feet and swear lifelong loyalty to him. The king had appealed to their sense of honor in a culture where honor and shame are major motivations not unlike in Jesus’ day. The master in the parable was appealing to their honor. Early translations of “They will respect my son” put it: “perhaps they will feel shame in his presence.” The story about King Hussein implies that if the rebels repented of their plot, they would receive amnesty. Likewise in the parable, seeing the son should have led the tenants to feel shame for their treatment of the servants and to repent and they would be forgiven. Instead, they decided to act like they were the owners and not renters.
- This parable is a thinly veiled description of the place of Jesus in God’s story. The servants in the parable were the prophets mistreated by the religious leadership of Israel. The son who was thrown out of the vineyard and killed is Jesus Christ. The tenants are the religious leadership of Israel – in Jesus’ time they are the chief priests and the Pharisees at the temple. The vineyard is Israel and signifies service in the kingdom of God. The parable is meant to further explain Jesus’ actions of cleansing the temple and cursing the fig tree. As to the cleansing of the temple the idea of the parable is that the priests and Pharisees want to kill the son so that they can act like the owners of the temple rather than stewards of the temple. As to the cursing of the fig tree the idea of the parable is that the priests and Pharisees failed to produce the fruit of repentance for God. But even in their rejection of the son, the priests and the Pharisees action of rejecting Jesus as the stone leads to Jesus becoming the cornerstone. That is, the passage points to the resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the vineyard to new leadership.
- You might have expected the master to seek justice for his servants when he decided instead to send his son, but then when they kill the son the conclusion is inescapable – he will put them to death and rent out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.
- The tenants didn’t pay their rent and so the vineyard is being rent (bad pun – ripped, torn) from them. The rent that they were to render unto God was the fruits of repentance. The tax collectors and prostitutes who repented at the preaching of John the Baptist were producing such fruits. But because the priests and Pharisees were not, the kingdom of God would be taken away and given to a people producing its fruits. The priests and the Pharisees were deserving of death because of their leadership in the death of the Christ. Thankfully, some would later believe in Jesus and be saved because He had died in their place. Others never turned to God and believed in Jesus, not even after the temple was destroyed as Jesus prophesied it would be. They hadn’t paid their rent to God, so the vineyard was rent from them.
- The kingdom of God was taken away from the Pharisees and priests and given to you all so that you might produce fruit for the vineyard owner. Everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ is a priest in the kingdom of God and produces the fruit of repentance. For the sending of the Son to die on a cross brought about salvation for a people who will produce the fruits of repentance – a people saved to serve in the kingdom of God – a kingdom that we don’t own (we are more like tenants or stewards for it belongs to God), a kingdom that we don’t really pay rent to enter for Jesus paid the price and rent is a metaphor for the fruits of repentance that we do offer God out of thanksgiving, and we go around and tell the world of an eviction notice that will be served so that they have multiple opportunities to repent and submit to Jesus the Son of God. For the crowds held that Jesus was a prophet, but we know that He is the Son of God forever praised! Amen.