Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 March 28, 2021
“The Parable of the Tenants”
We arrive today at Palm Sunday in the Christian year. Today Jesus arrives at Jerusalem for the final week of His public ministry—a week which culminates in His death and resurrection. Today, as was the case here the three preceding Lord’s Days, we hear another text from that final week in Jesus’ ministry. Let us give our attention to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as He speaks to our souls in His written Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Jesus, apparently without break from His denial to declare the source of His authority (11:27-33, esp. 11:33), proceeds to tell His hearers (the Jewish religious leaders) and His overhearers (the crowd) a parable. A landowner planted a vineyard. He did everything necessary to ensure maximal yield. He planted his vineyard, put a fence about it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenants—in order that He may realize his yield in due time.
When the season came to reap the harvest, the landowner sent for some of his fruits—but he sought and sent in vain. The tenants mistreated the servants that the landowner sent; in fact, none that the landowner sent found himself exempt from mistreatment at the hands of these tenants. The first they beat severely (or whipped, Greek dero [derw]), and the second they struck on the head and otherwise treated shamefully. The tenants even killed the third tenant that the landowner sent. This landowner, undeterred in Jesus’ story, continued to sent servants, but the result remained the same: they beat some, and they killed some. Moreover, the tenants never rendered fruit unto the owner—fruit to which the landowner was due his rightful share.
The landowner had yet one other to send: his own beloved son. Despite all the mistreatment that his servants suffered (and, by extension, he suffered), he reckoned within himself, “They will respect my son.” His reckoning, alas, was cruelly, tragically disappointed. The tenants see the son—and an opportunity. They aim to kill him, and, in killing him, they hope to seize his inheritance. Jesus soon relays the tragic disposition of the matter: The tenants indeed take the son, kill him, and throw him from the vineyard.
The landowner, at long last, reckons decisively with the tenants. What will the owner of the vineyard do? In Matthew’s account the hearers answer Jesus’ question, but in Mark’s account Jesus answers His own question. He will destroy those tenants—tenants who trampled his gracious terms and committee atrocities against his servants and son. The landowner, after destroying the evil tenants, will give the vineyard to others.
Then Jesus gives the Jewish religious leadership (hearing Him since 11:27) something to ponder. He quotes Psalm 118:22-23, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” As Jesus quotes this Old Testament passage, the chief priests, scribes, and elders soon see, to their chagrin, that Jesus likens Himself (correctly, I add) to the rejected stone now the cornerstone, and He likens them to the ones rejecting that stone. The Jewish religious leaders, thus chagrined, sought to arrest Him Who told the parable against them. They arrested Him not then, for they feared the people, who held Him to be a prophet (Matthew 21:46). Hence, these leaders, worsted yet again, left Jesus and went away—but not for long.
Note the several correspondences in Jesus’ parable. God the Father is the One planting a vineyard. The vineyard, on the day Jesus uttered this parable, is His Old Covenant people—the people of His delight, the elect of whom His Son will redeem presently. The first tenants are the Old Covenant leaders—these priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and the like. The servants are the prophets and other messengers from God, sent to reclaim His wayward people. The son is the Son, Jesus Christ, and this is the starkest analogue in the parable. The second tenants are those who embrace the Son—those Jews and Gentiles who receive Jesus by faith and who walk with Him in discipleship.
Every step that Jesus took in that Holy Week two millennia ago brought Him one step closer to the agony that He endured for our sakes. Every step also brought Him one step closer to His glorious victory over sin, the grave, death, and hell. May we, by God’s grace, embrace the Son—or continue so to do—in order that we may have life: abundant and eternal. May we, by embracing the Son, bear fruit—even much fruit—for His glory, for the good of many, and for confirmation to our own souls that we are His. May we, above all, in this week of all weeks, perceive the welcoming embrace of God in our souls—and may this fill our souls with ever-deepening faith in Him.
 The Greek verb here rendered treated shamefully (atimazo [atimazw]) does not tell us the precise nature of the shameful treatment, but such treatment results in dishonor upon the mistreated one.