There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way” (Matthew 21:33-36).
The owner of this vineyard entrusted it to the tenants without any supervision. He did not dictate how they should cultivate the land or protect it. He trusted them to do what was best, just as God has created us, given us life, and trusted us to live our lives in the best way possible. He has entrusted us to care for one another. He has given us gifts of freedom, creativity, and compassion. It is up to us to use our gifts to bring about a better world.
Jesus told this story during his final days on earth. This part of the narrative is the introduction to the fifth and last of Jesus’ sermons recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. The religious leaders whom Jesus was speaking to knew that the vineyard stood for Israel and that the owner represented God. In his parable, Jesus depicted the tenants (the religious leaders of Israel) as killing the messengers (the prophets) whom God had sent again and again. When Jesus added to the parable that the tenants killed the owner’s son, he asked the religious leaders what the owner would do to the tenants.
They answered, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give them the produce at the proper times” (Matthew 21: 41). Jesus agreed with them, quoted a psalm, and said, “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:43).
The Gospel According to Matthew was written after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the audience was made up of converts from Judaism and paganism. They understood the reference to the son as referring to Jesus himself. So, in giving the kingdom of God to the people who produce fruit, he was putting his trust in them.
With trust comes responsibility. We have the responsibility to do the best we can with the gifts God has given us. We are entrusted to care for one another and bring the message of God to those we encounter.
God is patient. The owner of the vineyard sent messenger after messenger and never punished the tenants. In the same way, God continually gives us opportunities to correct and learn from our mistakes. This parable gives us hope.
How do you use your gifts? Do you act in a way that exhibits how you are entrusted with care for yourself and others?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.