The Tenant Farmers, by Katie Snipes Lancaster
Jesus told the people this parable: “A certain man planted a vineyard, rented it to tenant farmers, and went on a trip for a long time. When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants sent him away beaten and empty-handed. The man sent another servant. But they beat him, treated him disgracefully, and sent him away empty-handed as well. He sent a third servant. They wounded this servant and threw him out. The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What should I do? I’ll send my son, whom I love dearly. Perhaps they will respect him.’ But when they saw him, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him so the inheritance will be ours.’ They threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “May this never happen!”
Staring at them, Jesus said, “Then what is the meaning of this text of scripture: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone? Everyone who falls on that stone will be crushed. And the stone will crush the person it falls on.”
Reflection: This particular parable offers “a grim picture of failed leadership and it’s tragic consequence.” Given the possibility for multiple interpretations of each parable, we can play within the many characters to suss out meaning. Are we to imagine Jesus as the soon-to-absent vineyard owner, who has left us with oversight of the newly planted, growing, thriving vines? Are we the ones tempted into violent action against any of the vineyard owners’ spokespersons? Or is this a warning to those listening of what is ahead, that soon the same thing will happen to him, the son sent in hope that this time the tenants will respond differently in relationship to the care of the vineyard? Trying to find ourselves in this parable or trying to find the first century hearer’s role in this parable helps open us up to the possibilities of what might be at stake here for Jesus and his message.
As Jesus knows with more and more clarity that he will be facing death, and that the mystery of life beyond death leaves his disciples less certainty, he is offering the disciples stories to chew on that make them (and us) ask questions about what it means to be under the authority of another (divine or human), and how we might best live out our lives in relationship to responsibilities, obligations, power-dynamics, and labor-demands in the meantime. May we navigate with more grace than those who were left in charge of the parabolic vineyard. May we understand what is at stake. May our ears be open to the way of Jesus as he nears the cross.
Jesus, as you near the cross,
open our ears to what you are saying,
so that we might walk the way with you.