The Parable of the Tenants
All day long we cast judgments, some benign others not. If I'm a grade school student, I soon learn to judge a fact as true, such as 5 plus 3 equals 8. If I don't, my grade suffers. Now as an adult, I make more complex choices. I weigh them on a mental, emotional and ethical scale. Should I choose this path or that? I also engage in judgments that are outside my personal domain: They have no right to... Look who he's talking to... I can't believe she did that! And this is where I get into trouble.
We make these judgments consciously and subconsciously throughout the day. However, one of the greatest of human ironies is that as we condemn others we also condemn ourselves, because we are made up of the same substance and have erred ethically in very similar ways, whether we admit it or not.
According to Matthew, as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, he engaged in his final series of verbal encounters with the teachers of the law and the chief priests. It was at this time that he cleared the temple, withered the fig tree, escaped the temple tax trap and spoke in parables to the crowds. What makes the Parable of the Tenants particularly interesting is that it becomes self-condemning to its intended audience: the powerbrokers of the law. These leaders that quickly cast their judgment were trapped by their own words.
Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah for the Jews and it seems that at least some of the Jewish leaders knew it. They knew their time was up if they did not eliminate him. He was a real threat, more so than the Romans who allowed them to reign over Israel as long as the taxes continued to flow. Yet still they lusted for power and would hold on as long as they could despite the consequences. They were not about to let the son of the Almighty spoil their reign. Arrogance of amazing proportion, they believed they could continue to hold power even if they killed the Messiah. It may certainly have been that some of the leaders no longer believed in their history or their prophets of old and were just going along with the Jewish religion that they considered a ruse. So, Jesus told them a parable that secured their own destruction.
“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
Notice how Matthew records Jesus' question and answer session following the story. Jesus asked the leaders of the Jews, "What will he do to those tenants?" Mesmerized by the lack of justice, they replied, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end." And with that they sealed their fate. Next Jesus brought their folly to the full light when he continued, "Have you never read in the Scriptures..." Of course they had, they were teaches of the law—the scribes and the Pharisees, the most learned of their day.
But don't we do the same? We also end up sealing our due justice when we judge others. Instead, we must ask for God's forgiveness.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Invariably, we will judge morality and truth. If we don't, we may fall prey to the lie that sin is a human construct or that sin is variable and that truth is in flux. But instead of casting judgment on our brothers and sisters, we are called to judge between true and false, good and evil. We are called to act righteously ourselves. When faced with the command, "Do not judge," we can't not judge the action. Then we may defend our own sin through the acceptance of the sin of another. Saying "Oh, it's okay for him to do that. Who am I to be the judge?" is far different than knowing in my heart that I'm not the judge of my brother or sister. When we begin justifying what is wrong for our own sake and our brother's, we end up messing with God's algebra. We distort one side of the equation. We turn truth into falsehood and lies into truth.
Power was far more important than truth to the leaders of Jesus' day. What's amazing is that the powerbrokers of the law are still among us. They are still casting judgment on others and sealing their fate with the wretches and their wretched end. But don't worry about them. Say to them, "I am a repentant sinner, God loves me and the angles of heaven are rejoicing." And when you find yourself casting judgment along with them, remember that God loves you and he will forgive all who call on his mercy.