In the Parable of the Tenant Farmers, Jesus responded to the Jewish religious leaders who questioned His spiritual authority.
In the parable Jesus told the story of a man who planted a vineyard and then leased it to tenant farmers to operate. The owner of the vineyard sent one of his servants to collect his share of the production from the vineyard but the tenants beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. Two more times the owner sent a servant to collect from the tenant farmers and each time they beat the servants and refused to pay.
Finally, the owner sent his son to collect, thinking the tenants would respect him. Instead, they killed the son so they could inherit the vineyard.
Then, Jesus asked what the owner should do to the tenants and answered the question Himself. He said that the owner of the vineyard should destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others! In Matthew’s version of this parable, Jesus added that God would give the vineyard to people who will “produce it’s fruit” (vs. 21:43).
Obviously, this parable was a prediction of Jesus’ own fate relative to the Jewish religious leaders. But, maybe there’s a message in this parable that has relevance for us religious folks today!
Recently, I was sitting in a church service and a gentleman entered the sanctuary wearing a baseball cap. He then sat down for the worship service and didn’t even remove the ball cap!
Where I come from, ball caps are fairly standard attire for guys. But most ball-cap wearers understand the rules. You take off the cap for the national anthem, the pledge to the flag, public prayer, and most certainly when you go into church!
Outrageous! How dare his fellow sit down to worship God wearing a ball cap? Doesn’t he know that you don’t wear ball caps in church? He can’t wear a ball cap in church because…because… because God surely doesn’t allow ball caps in heaven!
As a good Christian and member of the church I would never wear a ball cap in church. It’s against the rules. And, folks need to follow the rules when they come to church. After all, don’t us good Christian church members get to make the rules?
A short time later I was reading this parable of Jesus that he spoke to the religious leaders in Jerusalem shortly before they had him crucified. And, I began to think (or the Holy Spirit convicted me) that this parable may have meaning for us religious folk, for us good Christian church members today.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a “what’s happening now” Christian! I like loud and enthusiastic worship music. I like the drums and electric guitars. I like the raised hands of passionate worshipers and exuberant applause for Jesus. And, I even think it’s all right to wear blue jeans to church and it’s cool if the pastor wears blue jeans, too.
So, how can I be like those religious leaders in ancient Jerusalem? How can a Christian as awesome as me be a Pharisee?
The truth is, it’s just as possible to be cool and be a Pharisee as it is to be passe and be a Pharisee!
When our personal standards for behavior, our rules, become a mechanism for judging or criticizing the behavior of others, then we invalidate their value and benefit to our own Christian witness and spiritual development.
There’s a severe warning in this parable for self-righteous Christians, even awesome and cool Christians who think they make the rules…
When we begin to think our rules are God’s rules, then we’re in danger of losing our witness for God’s Kingdom.
It’s God’s vineyard. He makes the rules. We are just tenant farmers. And, our job is to be fruitful, not self-righteous and critical.
Because, God can give His vineyard to others!
You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. (Galatians 5:13, CEB)