Listen To Another Parable
Ordinary 27 Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 21: 33 — 43
In the previous reading (verses 23 — 32) our Lord, whose authority had been challenged by the senior Jewish officials at the Temple, very carefully challenged them to take a look at themselves and to see that they were setting a poor example for people to follow. Before they can utter a word in their self-defence He quickly adds another challenge: “Now listen to another parable.” This demonstrates how earnest He is to help them see past their own self-satisfaction and adopt a more humble and open attitude to God’s unfolding plan of salvation. Sadly, we know from verse 46, that Jesus failed in His outreach on this occasion. But we have to remember, the whole purpose of confronting people with parables demonstrates how our Lord tries “to keep the door open” in the hope that they will eventually respond to His call.
Some Reflections on our Text
Hear another parable. 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.
Jesus is emphatic: “Hear, i.e. listen carefully to another parable” implying that He will go on and on giving examples to break through the seemingly impregnable fortress mentality of the Temple authorities! We should remember that our Lord’s technique is to use parables to stun with maximum impact in the hope that they will cause a person to come back to them later and reflect on the meaning. Parables are stories from which understanding comes, eventually, to those who are seeking it as they would look for treasure! So, we must see our Lord’s intention is to “bring His opponents round; and see the error of their ways. It is not a prophetic proclamation of what is going to happen to them!
This is one of those occasions we ought to read the Scripture our Lord is referring to, viz. Isaiah 5: 1 — 7; noting that Jesus focuses not so much on the vineyard, but on those who are entrusted to nurture it.
1 Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning
his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside;
2 He spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest
vines; Within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine
press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded
was wild grapes.
3 Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge
between me and my vineyard:
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not
done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring
forth wild grapes?
5 Now, I will let you know what I mean to do to my vineyard:
Take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its
wall, let it be trampled!
6 Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed,
but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the
clouds not to send rain upon it.
7 The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah are his cherished plant; He looked
for judgment, but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark,
the outcry! (Isaiah 5: 1 — 7)
We should note that in His telling of the parable, the landowner did not leave permanently, but signalled he would one day return, at a time unspecified.
When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the
tenants to obtain his produce.
Even before returning, the landowner, when harvest time approached, dispatched his representatives to collect the fruit he expected. The time between planting and the first grape harvest was three to five years. The tenants responsible for the vineyards should have known that he would return when he chose, and that, since the vineyard belonged to the landowner, he had a right to expect an appropriate harvest: that is, the right fruit and the right amount.
Verse 35 and 36
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.
The tenants seized the landowner’s representatives; one was flayed (i.e. beaten till there was no skin left on his body), one was killed, and the other was stoned to ensure there were no witnesses.
A larger contingent than the previous was sent by the landowner but they were treated in the same way.
Verse 37 and 38
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
In a final call to yield up the harvest that was expected the landowner sent his son to them, thinking he, at least, would be shown proper respect. Realising he was the heir to the vineyard, the tenants conspired to kill him and hijack possession of it. This was quite a realistic plan. Whether wrongly or rightly, the tenants reasoned that if there were no other heir, the property would become theirs at the death of the owner. This verse reinforces the idea that the reference to “his son” in verse 37, means his only son.
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
So they took him captive, led him outside the walls, and executed him. Here ends the parable.
Our Lord asks bluntly:
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when
Verse 41 — 42
The senior and very learned authorities have no hesitation in answering this rather obvious question:
They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to
a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the
cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is
wonderful in our eyes’?
Our Lord has made some progress. The only problem is, the authorities to whom He is showing the utmost respect in the circumstances, fail to get the connection. They don’t have the slightest idea that their behaviour could lead them to act exactly as did the tenants in this parable. Jesus therefore appeals to their love of the Scriptures (or at least their love of quoting them), and on this occasion, quotes word for word from Psalm 118: 22 and 23, hinting that they appear to have never really sought the true and full meaning of the words.
In quoting this Psalm, Jesus — in a sense — supplies a missing piece of their “jig-saw puzzle”. They, that is the authorities, have been performing a role in the People Israel like that of an architect. They claim to know the Scriptures (as do most people in similar positions) yet they have rejected what should have been seen as the chief cornerstone. In doing so, they have bypassed the means by which the Jews and Gentiles would be united in one body, according to God’s plan outlined in the ancient Scriptures and referred to frequently by the great Prophets.
The failure of the Jewish authorities to accept Jesus as Messiah therefore, if we may express it in human terms, required God to “get around” their obstruction, and find some other way to avoid frustration of the Divine Plan. As we know from other parts of Scripture, especially St. Paul’s Epistles, this failure did not stop God’s Plan nor did it, paradoxically, eliminate the Jewish authorities from their part in it. However, their refusal to acknowledge Jesus caused Him to warn them of the possible consequences of their actions.
Finally, realising that he may as well just be talking to himself, Jesus makes his boldest statement yet:
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.
This verse remains one of the most misinterpreted in all of Sacred Scripture. We can still hear it frequently presented as:
“….. the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you Jews and given
to the Gentiles ….. “
That is how it is commonly interpreted. It is an unfortunate misunderstanding for several reasons:
First: Such an interpretation would be tantamount to our Lord’s passing judgment here, upon the authorities. But this is exactly what He is not doing. He is holding up a mirror to their faces to show them how wrong they are — and that they need to reflect on this parable so they understand what He has been teaching them. They are being given extended indulgence to amend. Our Lord has not given up on them despite their arrogance, envy, and selfishness.
Secondly: Jesus is well aware of the all-too-human factor in the situation which has arisen where the authorities have become too comfortable, self-seeking and smug in their privileged positions. He knows a similar mindset could easily develop in the new “people” to whom the Kingdom of God is given. Thus the parable is to hold true until the end of time. It therefore remains open-ended, and we all need to avoid falling into the same trap.
It is very easy for all of us to slip into thinking we are part of the “in-group”, and to exclude others who do not fit our model. So we can think we are “baptised”, “saved”, or “born-again” and sit back very pleased with ourselves. In this way we are falling back on the guarantees we attribute to our “membership” of God’s people — just as the Temple authorities did. The essential failure, of course, is to live up to the responsibilities inherent in the privileged existence.
Thirdly: When the verse is misapplied, as quoted above, the real message is cloaked and kept from view.
The parable reflects unmistakably the failure of those left in charge of the Lord’s vineyard, to carry out what they were originally tasked with. Our Lord keeps coming back to this time and time again. It is the root of the matter.
At the very beginning of Israel’s nationhood, at Sinai, the Hebrews were tasked by God personally to uphold His Teaching — His Torah — His Law — His Word(s). God’s Commandments were specific and entailed a whole culture of depth, meaning and life-giving Spirit.
In essence God’s instructions called upon His People Israel to:
Listen to Him and His life-giving Commands;
Love God from the depths of their being, showing
this by their obedience to His commands;
Live in and for God as members of His Household.
Those appointed to positions of authority carried out their appointed tasks with great devotion, attention to detail, and in a spirit of personal holiness. However, over a period of time many wonderful values became compromised and in the time of the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, the Jewish authorities succumbed to the ever powerful temptation to “feather their own nest”.
It therefore has to be said that these authorities failed to uphold the full spirit of the Torah, the Law, and in fact, became the cause of a major breakdown in the performance of the religious teaching outlined in the Torah (i.e., the five books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible).
Our Lord took great pains to remain totally loyal and committed to the Hebrew culture based on Torah. He very emphatically renewed the core or centre position of the Divine Word, the Torah:
Foundation of the Teaching of Jesus
The first Commandment is:
“‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, is LORD alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with
all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”.
The second is this: “You shall love your neighbour as
yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than
these. The whole law and the prophets depend on these
(Deuteronomy 6: 4.) (Leviticus 19: 18.) (Matthew 22: 39 — 41) (Mark 12: 29 — 31)
In chapter 5 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, our Lord outlined how the true spirit of the Torah would be put into daily practice by His disciples. We call this the Sermon on the Mount.
The Temple authorities in our Lord’s time stood indicted by their own words and actions, as failing to uphold in their lives, and teaching the true meaning of God’s Holy Law.
This was unacceptable to Jesus and He chose on this occasion to “declare His hand” — to come out with what had to be said to these imposters! They were a sham and a disgrace, and unless they repented and abandoned their corrupt thinking, they were doomed for destruction.
Harsh words? Yes. But love taken to its ultimate limit — a final warning given in mercy!
A Word of Clarification
Usually, as noted above, when we hear this parable read, many of us are inclined to hear:
“….. the Kingdom of God has been taken from the Jews and
given to the Gentiles.”
And, in listening to the parable, many people say it just passes them by (“like water off a duck’s back”), and really, there’s nothing more to be said!
This is a very serious situation and indicates how the misinterpretation of our Lord’s teaching can be disastrous. Let us look carefully at what He taught.
1. “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you corrupt, self-seeking leaders of our People Israel, and will be given to a people that will produce the intended fruit.”
2. It does not mean the role, dignity and privilege of being the “People of God” transfers from the Jews to the Gentiles, but it certainly does mean these extend beyond the authority of the Jewish rulers. The authority of the rulers to teach and speak as God’s representatives on earth is taken from them.
3. This authority passes to a new people: not only holy and devout Jews; not Gentiles as such. The new people of God will comprise people from all nations, Jew and Gentile. (See 1. Peter 2: 9 who expounds our Lord’s teaching on the matter.)
4. God’s Kingdom, His reign, continues and remains focussed on a people in which it is not just the leaders who have been replaced, but in which the very nature of belonging has changed.
5. Jesus insisted the people to whom the Kingdom of God is given must “produce its fruit”. And He has provided the means whereby it can achieve this.
Elsewhere in His teaching, our Lord explained that He is, in fact, the perfect embodiment of all the Scriptures pointed towards when referring to the People of God. Thus He was able to say to His Apostles on the night before He was betrayed:
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
2 He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and
3 You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
4 Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me
6 Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for
8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and
6. When Jesus said He is the true vine, He did not mean all other vines (especially the Vine Israel) are false. He is emphasising that He is the true fulfilment of all the Vine is meant to be. We, as Christians, are grafted into that Vine, Jews and Gentiles, and share in the New Life our Lord gives it. In this way, collectively, we can produce the fruit required by the vine grower, whom Jesus refers to as “my Father” (John 15: 1).
All is not lost; the kingdom has not been taken from anyone who truly valued belonging to it. This warning is for all who exercise authority in the kingdom down through the ages. It is a very firm, clear, and forthright call to them and all who would perform their function in God’s kingdom, to review their actions and amend any behaviour which does not measure up.
Any hint in this account of a warning is given in the future tense. But only the spiritually shortsighted will assume it will always be that way. God allows us to choose whether or not we take the call and teaching of his Son seriously. And he gives times for us to review our position and performance. The same challenge to the Jewish authorities confronts us. This is intended to be encouragement that despite our weaknesses and distractions, and all that goes with being very human in difficult circumstances, there is always hope while we are trying to make a better effort for God. So let’s encourage one another to persevere and not become preoccupied with either our weaknesses, nor lack of progress, but keep our focus on the Son who will return in due season.
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Listen To Another Parable
Ordinary 27 Year A Matthew 21: 33 to 43
1. Jesus did not remove anyone from the Kingdom of God during His earthly ministry.
The lesson is that those to whom the Kingdom of God has been given must make
2. It is good for the Church to remember that it has not displaced nor replaced
do not boast against the branches. If you do boast, consider
Indeed you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I
That is so. They were broken off because of unbelief, but
3. It is easy to come away from this Gospel reading feeling a little desolate, no matter
For those of us trying honestly to be good and faithful disciples, this is a parable
First: The stone which the builders rejected is in place and has become to
Secondly: By seeking daily (as He elsewhere insisted e.g. Luke 9: 23) to be His
“Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me,
(St. Luke 9: 23)
Let us pray for one another that we will remember this lesson of hope from the Lord who
Matthew 21: 33 — 43
Ordinary 27 Year A
33 26 “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
34 When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants 28 to the tenants to
35 But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they
36 Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but
37 Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’
38 29 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This
39 30 They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
40 What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he
41 They answered 31 him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched
42 32 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone
43 33 Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from
26 [33-46] Cf ⇒ Mark 12:1-12. In this parable there is a close correspondence between most of the details of the story and the situation that it illustrates, the dealings of God with his people. Because of that heavy allegorizing, some scholars think that it does not in any way go back to Jesus, but represents the theology of the later church. That judgment applies to the Marcan parallel as well, although the allegorizing has gone farther in Matthew. There are others who believe that while many of the allegorical elements are due to church sources, they have been added to a basic parable spoken by Jesus. This view is now supported by the Gospel of Thomas, #65, where a less allegorized and probably more primitive form of the parable is found.
27  Planted a vineyard . . . a tower: cf ⇒ Isaiah 5:1-2. The vineyard is defined in ⇒ Isaiah 5:7 as “the house of Israel.”
28 [34-35] His servants: Matthew has two sendings of servants as against Mark’s three sendings of a single servant (⇒ Mark 11:2-5a) followed by a statement about the sending of “many others” (⇒ Mark 11:2, ⇒ 5b). That these servants stand for the prophets sent by God to Israel is clearly implied but not made explicit here, but see ⇒ Matthew 23:37. His produce: cf ⇒ Mark 12:2 “some of the produce.” The produce is the good works demanded by God, and his claim to them is total.
29  Acquire his inheritance: if a Jewish proselyte died without heir, the tenants of his land would have final claim on it.
30  Threw him out . . . and killed him: the change in the Marcan order where the son is killed and his corpse then thrown out (⇒ Matthew 12:8) was probably made because of the tradition that Jesus died outside the city of Jerusalem; see ⇒ John 19:17; ⇒ Hebrews 13:12.
31  They answered: in ⇒ Mark 12:9 the question is answered by Jesus himself; here the leaders answer and so condemn themselves; cf ⇒ Matthew 21:31. Matthew adds that the new tenants to whom the vineyard will be transferred will give the owner the produce at the proper times.
32  Cf ⇒ Psalm 118:22-23. The psalm was used in the early church as a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection; see ⇒ Acts 4:11; ⇒ 1 Peter 2:7. If, as some think, the original parable ended at ⇒ Matthew 21:39 it was thought necessary to complete it by a reference to Jesus’ vindication by God.
33  Peculiar to Matthew. Kingdom of God: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 19:23-24. Its presence here instead of Matthew’s usual “kingdom of heaven” may indicate that the saying came from Matthew’s own traditional material. A people that will produce its fruit: believing Israelites and Gentiles, the church of Jesus.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
The Gospel Story by Ronald Cox
St. Matthew 21: 33 — 43
Before the delegation could withdraw, our Lord began a second parable. It is closely linked with the preceding by the vineyard there he had concentrated their attention on John the Baptist, now he drew attention to his own person. On Israel’s attitude to him, their fate depended. The Sanhedrin had thought to destroy his reputation with the crowd; he has taken the offensive instead, and will discredit them with the people.
Our Lord has already spoken a parable about a vineyard here he describes the characteristic qualities of a Judean vineyard. Judea is a land of rocky hills. First of all the stones have to be cleared; they are stacked up on the borders of the vineyard to make a fence (‘he walled it in). A portion of the solid rock is cut back until it becomes a level platform; on it the grapes will be trodden out to yield their juice for wine, which runs into vats hollowed out of the same rock (‘dug a wine-press’). Finally a rough shelter of stones is built in the centre of the vineyard; someone is on watch there day and night to guard the grapes against thieves and jackals (‘built a tower’). The vines take about three years to produce fruit; the care of them, and harvesting is often done on a share-farming system, the tenant-farmer paying a third of his crop to the owner.
This is the plainest of all our Lord’s parables; no need for the audience to wait for the end of the story to know what it was all about. He began his description in words almost identical with the prophet Isaiah’ classical image (Isaiah 5: 1 — 7); and there the vineyard was the house of Israel, the Lord’s inheritance. But instead of speaking of the vineyard, our Lord spoke of the vinedressers: undoubtedly these were the leaders of Israel assembled about him.
Jesus emphasised God’s patient toleration of their ill treatment of all his prophets from Moses onwards. He would give them just one more chance; it was all that was left to him; he would send his only Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. But now at this moment, when the Son is standing before them, they are plotting to kill him. There was no need to explain the parable; it described that very situation in the temple.
A voice from the crowd showed that all understood. But surely God would not abandon Israel! With a look of pity and love (‘he fastened his eyes on them’) Jesus turns to the crowd. With a sudden change of thought, probably suggested by the building operations going on in the temple, he rivets their thoughts on himself: he, the final stone in God’s building, has been rejected by the leaders. This means their destruction#. The people must now make their choice; if they reject him, they too will be abandoned by God.
# The writer refers to the destruction of the comfortable, exclusive, self-satisfying culture of the Temple authorities. Jesus is sending a “warning shot” so they will change course. The message is clear: if they will not abandon this selfish, corrupt hijacking of authority in God’s affairs, they will find themselves abandoned by Him.