The passage can be read here.
There are some events so huge; they cast a shadow that lasts for decades. Like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 which set off a chain of events that led within weeks to the First World War, which in turn led to huge changes in the lives of millions of people. In my own lifetime, there have been times when I’ve sensed the world change; the fall of the Berlin Wall and the terrible attacks of September 11th 2001 – most of us realised very quickly, things would never be the same again.
I’m thinking about this because we are dealing here with the greatest event of history – the death of Jesus on the cross. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus changed everything. It’s been nearly 2,000 years but the cross still casts a shadow into the lives of believers. As the hymn writer Elizabeth C Clephane put it so beautifully;
“Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.”
The cross dominates all other events in so many ways but crucially, it casts a shadow not only forward to the present day but back even to our first ancestors. We see it in the Eden, in the promises to the patriarchs, through the prophecies of the seers, the words of angels at the birth of Jesus and most clearly of all – through the teachings of the Lord Jesus himself.
In today’s passage the shadow is very clear, we are in the last week of Jesus’ life, it’s Tuesday and it’s the last day of public teaching. He was in the temple courts. He was under enormous pressure, before him was unimaginable suffering, yet he remains resolved, righteous and courageous.
The meaning of the parable is fairly obvious; the landowner is God; the vineyard, Israel; the tenants, the religious leaders; the servants, the prophets and the son, Jesus. It’s being played out before their eyes. Jesus was fully aware of his place in the divine plan, he knew who he was, that his enemies desperately wanted him eliminated and that he would be killed. The authorities also knew the meaning of the parable and their place in it. They heard Jesus but they were not listening, they were locked into a way of thinking and to change would have involved a climb down.
It would be easy to park this parable and place under the heading ‘For the Jews and not for me’ but that would be a mistake as the words of Jesus are still very relevant. God is the landowner – this is his world and he has the right to demand anything he wants. If this is God’s world, we must be the tenants. He has sent servants – people who have shared the good news and they have been ill-treated and many have been killed. There will be a reckoning – how could it be avoided? God will judge and the question will be on the single issue of how each of us has responded to Jesus Christ. The one who was hated, vilified and crucified, is now Lord of all. We can either build our lives upon him as our cornerstone or reject him and face judgement.
“Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.”