Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. Matthew 21:43
The renters are given everything they needed to produce wine, including a press and a wall (v. Mt. 21:33). They weren’t given just one vine of grapes but an entire production and probably a vast amount of land full of fruit-producing plants (Is. 16:8). The grape farmers were deeply faithful to the vineyard – they produced good grapes. In fact, the owner was very satisfied and sent servants to go get his portion – presumably the rent he was owed – from the tenants (Mt. 21:34, 38).
Of course, the owner had the rights to everything in that farm since he’d built it and owned it outright. All he’d asked for was payment from the ones renting the property. More than that, the owner didn’t even demand a finished product of wine, he only wanted the grapes as they were being harvested (v.34). So, the renters would have been left with many bunches of grapes, a wine press, and the safety in which to make and then sell a lucrative product.
In return for rent in the form of grapes, the farmers could produce wine. The renters were unrestricted beyond that – they were not considered slaves or even servants of the vineyard’s owner (v. 34). In other words, in return for only rent, the tenants were given a vast supply of produce to sell, freedom to use it as they wanted, and land on which to live. It wasn’t just a fair agreement, it was a fully gracious agreement. The owner planned to make them wealthy.
And, the renters had been very faithful in growing and producing grapes. They were good at their craft. In fact, they were fiercely loyal to the vineyard. As it turned out, they would eventually murder to keep it and its produce.
When he doesn’t receive what he is rightfully owed, the landlord sent one servant and then another to the vineyard to collect. When they ferociously kill both servants, in an act of unprecedented and lavish grace, the owner sends his son to gather the payment. He did not send his son with an army to imprison, enslave, or execute the renters who had access to his land and an income from his produce (vv. 37-38). He sent his son to represent himself, thinking that maybe the renters didn’t respect the servants he’d sent. But, in fierce defense of grapes, the renters slaughter the son too. Instead of being content with their huge portion of wealth, the renters were also greedy enough to obtain the portion belonging to the owner’s son – his inheritance (v. 38).
In either case, in this scenario, the grapes or wine were going to be produced. It would either be done in faithfulness to the owner or in faithfulness to the vineyard and its renters. Of course, the owner had the right to take everything, but he was generous. In return, while attempting to tend the owner’s vineyard, the renters became so infatuated with the grapes that they began to think of them as their own bunches of tiny fruit. Instead of remaining faithful to the owner in their gardening and sending, they were intensely faithful to their grapes. Instead of sending to the Father, they were going to send and sell the grapes elsewhere. Instead of being faithful to the one who had the power to create and gift vineyards, they were faithful to the yield of the vineyard.
In using our talents, we must be faithful to the one to whom we are sending. When someone becomes more attached to the people in whom they are invested or the gifts the Spirit has given, the heart attaches to those things or people instead of the Father. This action chisels the soul away from the rightful, lavishly gracious, and loving Owner. It causes us to become vicious in defending the product. It causes what we produce to become more valuable to us than God. We are left holding onto something that will die instead of onto the indulgent and infinite Life Creator.
The question isn’t “what have we produced,” but to whom will we be faithful with what we’ve been given? To whom will we send the fruit? Our fruit may be used for others, but it is ultimately given to God.
In the end, faithfulness to fruit rather than faithfulness to the Owner – the Father – took the tenants outside of his grace. It may seem as if the owner instigated this by finally “bringing those wretches to a wretched end” (v. 41, NAS). However, by rejecting the grace of the Generous One, the farmers took themselves out of his favor. They were attempting to disconnect the vineyard from the Owner. They brought their own destruction because they were cutting themselves off from the Creator – the builder of the vineyard.
Of course, it was the Pharisees, not Jesus, who came to the violent conclusion of a “wretched end” for the renters. The Jewish leaders decided that judgement in some form of painful and dignity defying death would be best. Jesus, in his grace, only said the vineyard would be given away to those who would be faithful to the Father, producing for and sending the grapes to him (v. 43). Jesus — who is exemplified by the murdered son in the parable — does not choose to repay death with death. Instead, he moves leadership away from the Pharisees — exemplified by the tenants — allowing them another chance at restoration. Whether we are faithful or not, restoration lives in the heartbeat of Jesus.
Jessica Fleck, New City Stories Contributor