“This is the heir, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours” (Luke 20:14)
Who owns God’s house? That question is at stake in Jesus’ parable of the vineyard and its tenants. The story comes on the heels of his faceoff with the religious authorities in the temple. Jesus casts out the moneychangers, and he and his followers effectively occupy the temple for a whole day, shutting down its lucrative business in the middle of the busy Passover season. The Jerusalem authorities disliked Jesus’ message, they resented his popularity, but it was the attack on the temple, the gospel writers insist, that made them decide the time had come to do him in. Shut down a shopping mall on the Saturday before Christmas, you might get the same response.
Jesus’ temple shutdown proved a point. This was his house. When Jesus next came to the temple, the priests and scribes were ready for him with another snare. “What authority do you have?” He puts them off with a question about John the Baptist, but then goes on to tell this story.
The vineyard was leased out to tenants, a common arrangement. These tenants, though, were most uncooperative. A procession of rent collectors was sent packing, and when the old man decided to send his only Son, they saw their chance. If they could kill him, the tenants reasoned, the vineyard would be theirs. But the master had other plans. Justice would come, the vineyard would go to others, who would produce fruit and fulfill the owners’ will.
The authorities, Luke tells us, perceived that Jesus spoke of them. The vineyard was an ancient symbol for Israel and its heritage, and Israel was God’s possession. The priests denounced prophets in the past. Their system worked well. Interlopers were not welcome, particularly this Nazarene carpenter who treated the great temple as his own inheritance.
Like Dostoyevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor,” they aim to correct God’s work, seizing the system for themselves. Their plan for mastery was almost complete: the people “will become timid and will look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and will be awe-stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever that we have been able to subdue such a turbulent flock of thousands of millions.”
But God will brook no competition. There is only one Owner, and he will have the last word. He will rise from death, a new temple, radiating divine glory.
Look It Up
Read Amos 7: 10-17. How is Jesus’ confrontation with the temple authorities like Amos’ faceoff with Amaziah?
Think About It
Do we act like we own the church?