The Parable of the Tenants [Young Disciples Recap]

Our Bible lesson on Sunday, May 26, was from Matthew 21:33-46, “The Parable of the Tenants.” In this parable, Jesus talks about a man who owned a vineyard that he rents to tenants. At harvest time, the man sends servants to collect his share of the fruit from the tenants. But, the tenants are evil – they beat and kill the servants. Then the landowner sends a second set of servants that the tenants also beat and kill. Finally the man, sends his son to the tenants, saying “They will respect my son.”

But when the tenants see the son they say to each other, “This is the heir. Come let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” And so they beat and kill the landowner’s son too. At this point, Jesus asks his audience, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

I posed the same question to the kids. It’s kind of funny, because a number of them offered that the man could choose to show mercy to the tenants (because we’ve been learning about having compassion, patience, and forgiving our enemies on Wednesday evenings). But in this case, the correct response for the landowner is judgment on the tenants, because he is in the position of authority. This is his land, and they have killed his servants and his son.

I explained to the kids that this parable was about how God’s chosen people, the Israelites, have been poor tenants of God’s kingdom. When God sent servants (prophets) to preach his word, the nation of Israel had repeatedly rejected them (and in some cases, persecuted and killed them). We know that this is the correct interpretation because Jesus says in verse 43, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” And the parable’s meaning must have been fairly obvious to the audience, because verse 45 says that the chief priests and the Pharisees knew Jesus was talking about them.

It’s important to remember that we have the benefit of knowing that Jesus is going to die soon – but the audience of this parable did not. It’s almost eerie to read how the chief priests and Pharisees started to plot how to arrest Jesus, fulfilling in themselves the final part of the parable. What a condemnation on the parts of these religious leaders! They recognized themselves in the parable, but instead of repenting, they ratify their evil attitudes by letting them grow to their violent death. But this is what sin does – it blinds us to the truth, and it brings us to our destruction.

There are two applications that we can take from this story. First, this is Jesus talking about opening his kingdom to the Gentiles. I think we sometimes think that Paul is the first person to talk about this – but this was Jesus’ plan. This is exciting for us, as Gentiles.

Second, as stewards of God’s kingdom, we must soberly understand our role. This is God’s kingdom. To usurp his authority is not only foolish – it is evil. May we work to expand God’s kingdom with a passion for his glory!

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