My grandpa was a sharecropper near New Madrid, Missouri. Since that is not a common thing anymore, maybe I should explain what that means. He did not own the land. He was allowed to live and raise a crop on the land. His particular crop was cotton. The owner of the land received a portion of the harvest as rent. I don’t know the exact arrangement my grandpa had. But sometimes what was owed was not a percentage. So, if there was a bad year, you could not pay the rent. Now imagine what would happen if my grandpa decided to act as if the land belonged to him. Keeping all of the cotton for himself. After all, he did all the work. It was his hands that were calloused and gnarled. The owner? Well, the owner didn’t raise cotton. He just sent someone along at harvest time to collect his rent.
In Luke 20:9-16 Jesus tells the parable of the Lord of the vineyard. Jesus began to tell the parable to the people. The people he was teaching in the temple. It is important to keep this in mind. A man planted a vineyard and then rented it out as he went away for a long time. The situation is similar to that of my grandpa. They were basically sharecroppers. There are several passages which would have come to mind with the mention of a vineyard. The most popular one would have been Isaiah 5:1-7. Israel is often compared to a vineyard. If Israel is the vineyard, who are the vine-growers? Maybe they are the religious leaders. They were not the owner. They are tenant farmers; sharecroppers. They are responsible for taking care of the vineyard, but it does not belong to them. Okay, that’s super important.
At the appropriate time. This may refer to Leviticus 19:23-25, which commands that fruit should not be harvested or eaten for three years. The fourth year it is be a holy, set apart, sacrifice to the Lord. The fifth year it can be harvested and eaten. So, the appropriate time, is five years later. For five years, they had been working the land; taking care of the vineyard. When it is finally time to harvest, the owner sends a slave to collect his rent. But somewhere along the way, they began to think the owner would not come back, or that they were in charge, or that they should, in fact, be the owners. After all, they had done all the work. So, they whip the slave and sent him away unsuccessful in his mission.
The owner continued on with sending another slave. They beat this one as well and treated him shamefully. The owner just continues on and sends another slave. This one is also wounded. The word wounded is the word from which we get traumatize. The most likely link to this succession of slaves is to the prophets of the Old Testament. Prophets who were sent to kings and leaders with a “Thus says the Lord” message. In Jeremiah 7:25-26 God tells the Israelites that since the time he brought them out of Egypt, he has sent them his servants the prophets, but they would not listen. They beat; they imprisoned; they mocked; they killed. They forgot who owned the land.
The Lord of the vineyard then decided that he would send his son. With the slaves, it was a continuing of the same action. With the son, something new is being done. This owner, unlike God, does not foresee the result. Surely, they will respect the son. I know. The owner of the vineyard is God. Jesus tells the story this way to emphasize what should have been. They should have respected the son. But they don’t. They instead decide to kill the son with the incredibly foolish thought that they would inherit the vineyard. It is beyond the point to come up with scenarios in which this crazy plan of theirs would actually work. That misses the exact point of the story. It is not possible. It is beyond reason. It is foolish. They take the son outside of the vineyard and kill him. This is most likely an allusion to Jesus being killed outside of Jerusalem. What will the owner of the vineyard do? Ah, foolish sharecroppers. The owner will come and destroy them and the vineyard, Israel, will be handed over to others. The people respond with an emphatic “may it never come about!”
The people may complain about the leadership, but it is what they know. And who are these others? Surely not Gentiles. How can this be? They forgot that they were merely sharecroppers. They were supposed to take care of Israel, nurture her, bring her fruit to the Lord of the vineyard. And here is the thing: you and I are not owners of the vineyard either. Leaders, elders, apostles, deacons, preachers, all of us are workers in the vineyard. The land is his. The fruit is his. Keep working; keep planting; keep watering; keep harvesting fruit; keep doing all things for God’s glory. He is the Lord of the vineyard. To him be the glory.