As a renter since college, I’m used to the process of periodically making new places feel like home. You hang pictures, paint the walls, and generally treat the place like it’s yours. But when the lease is up, you spackle over the nail holes, hope the landlord doesn’t notice that scratch in the floor, and move out, because in fact, it isn’t yours.
Jesus is addressing this parable to Jewish leaders angered by his teaching on his rightful authority, and what that meant for their place in the religious hierarchy. Matthew Henry describes the leaders’ error this way: “There is an inheritance, which, if they had duly reverenced the Son, might have been theirs…but they slighted that, and would have their inheritance in the wealth, and pomp, and powers, of this world.” Instead of giving the owner the fruit that is rightfully his, the tenants plot to steal it for themselves and react with escalating violence towards the agents – "some they beat, and some they killed" (v.5) – until even the owners’ beloved son falls prey to their greed. In response, the owner “will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others (v.9).” Instead of glory, the leaders inherit judgment.
What struck me in reading this passage is how like the tenants I am. Daily, in ways big and small, I seek glory for things I am simply renting from the Father. I camp out in the land that I was placed in to cultivate on His behalf and claim the fruit as my own.
How often do I respond like the religious leaders when God exerts his rightful ownership? When my perch as master of my vineyard is threatened, I react not with violence, but with bitterness and discontent. A season of singleness longer than I would have chosen, prayers that seem to go unanswered, plans that fall apart – this is enough to challenge my illusion of control and make me doubt the care and goodness of the Savior.
The wonder of the Gospel is that we trade places with Jesus; that His honor is marked as ours, despite years of going rogue in the Father’s vineyard. He is the true heir, but he gives us the riches owed to the beloved son. We can have confidence in the fact that the Lord is merciful, and able to root out the hard-heartedness and sense of entitlement that lies in our rejection of Him. May He be gentle, but thorough, in the uprooting.
Liz Downey is Advent's Operations and Communications Coordinator. She's an avid horseback rider, a huge fan of public libraries, and loves traveling to new places near and far. Liz lives in Woodley Park.