Monday, June 13, 2011

The Parable of the Tenants and the Vineyard

Monday, June 13, 2011 -- Week of Proper 6, Year One
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Apologist and Writer, 1936
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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 970)
Psalms 80 (morning)      77, 79 (evening)
1 Samuel 1:1-20
Acts 1:1-14
Luke 20:9-19

Parables can have various purposes and audiences.  By the time Luke wrote his gospel and set into written word the story that Jesus told around forty years before, the story of the vineyard and the tenants made a good parable about the authorities' rejection of Jesus as Messiah. 

It may be that Jesus had another purpose when he told this parable.  Origianlly it might have been a parable directed at those who advocated violence in the Jewish resistance to Rome.  The people knew about absentee landlords.  Much of the agricultural system was dominated by wealthy elites who delegated the oversight of their property to retainers who were responsible for paying the owner a hefty profit on the produce.  The system was an abusive one that often left the peasant workers little or nothing for their tenant labor. 

Rich in the memory of first century Jews was the successful revolt of the Maccabees in 164 BCE that defeated a foreign ruler and established a Jewish-led state in Israel for a hundred years.  In those days the tenants had indeed thrown off owner and his representatives and reclaimed the vineyard as their own.  Many zealots in Israel during Jesus' day longed for just such a revolt against the Roman occupation.  Some formed themselves into para-military guerrilla forces using terrorist tactics against Roman interests and Jewish collaborators.  Jesus was probably hung between two such "bandits," as they were called.  One of his disciples, Simon, was called "the zealot."  The disciple Simon may have participated in the movement to expel the Romans by force.

Longings for independence and Jewish autonomy were richly woven into the messianic expectations of Israelites.  When the Messiah comes, it was hoped, God will throw off the yoke of the foreign oppressors and initiate a new kingdom as in the days of David and Solomon.  Israel will be great among the nations again. 

So as Jesus may have told this story originally, it might have been heard to be a story of Israel's struggle to maintain its independence and autonomy over foreign rule.  The parable may have played off of the resentments of Roman absentee landlords and their retainers, who pressed peasants so severely that many could not make ends meet, sometimes falling into debt and indentured servitude because of the oppressive system.  Who wouldn't want to be liberated from such an occupation? 

The listeners' ears must have burned as Jesus tells of the tenants' rebellion.  One season they rebel and successfully enjoy the fruit of their labor.  Another season they rebel again, and they have the reward of their work.  Finally, it appears that they may seize control of their own land and future in a decisive way.  They throw the son of the owner out of the vineyard, and kill him.  Isn't this what the Messiah is supposed to do for us?  To defeat the oppressor and return Israel to its former freedom and glory.

Jesus' parables often have a surprise twist.  For any zealots who may have been listening, this story would have turned ugly at this point.  "What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others."  The reaction is not good.  "Heaven forbid!"

If people are cherishing messianic hopes for Jesus, he shows that he will not be a messiah who leads armed insurrection on Israel's behalf.  His parable speaks of the futility of violence.  Violence only begets violence.  The zealots in the audience would not have liked what they heard. 

Eventually Jesus was a Messiah who overcame violence by absorbing it and returning nothing but love.  That is the "stone that the builders rejected" which became "the cornerstone."  Love and nonviolence.  This is the unconventional path of Jesus' rebellion.



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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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