Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;[a]
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.[b]
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Jesus usually doesn’t sugarcoat anything and this parable is another example. Here we find Jesus speaking directly to the spiritual leaders of the time. He’s painting them into a corner and they know it. He knows the throngs of people consider him a prophet (v. 46) and that He is safe, for the moment, and so he keeps driving home the point that one day, you chief priests and Pharisees are going to have to answer one basic question: Who do you say I am? The writers of scripture consistently point to Jesus always funneling us into this one, cataclysmic question.
In our own lives, Jesus asks us the same question. We may call Jesus Lord and Savior, but we all have fenced in lands we own where we’ve built watchtowers. Perhaps it’s an unwillingness to trust Jesus financially, and so we work 60+ hours per week and our faith suffers. Perhaps it’s an unwillingness to embrace others in community, preferring instead to believe the lie that our spirituality is a private matter and our faith withers. Maybe we have resentments toward our spouse cordoned off and protected on a patch of ground in our hearts with a watchtower that spots forgiveness coming from a mile away and kills the idea before it even gets within shouting distance.
Whatever it is, Jesus is sending Himself today and every day, bearing a question: Who do you say I am?
What thoughts or feelings emerge as you read the phrase in verse 45, “they realized that he was speaking about them”?
What protected areas of your life is Jesus sending Himself?
What is your response to His question?