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The Parable of the Wicked Tenants: A Deep Dive into Matthew 21:33-46 (NRSV-UE)

Part One of our Revised Common Lectionary Series


Greetings once again, dear congregation and spiritual explorers! Welcome to part one of our blog series, where we follow the Revised Common Lectionary to delve into various Bible passages in sync with the wider church. Today we're focusing on a compelling story Jesus tells in the Gospel of Matthew: The Parable of the Tenants, found in Matthew 21:33-46 of the New Revised Standard Version-Updated Edition.

Title Ribbon on a sepia-toned background image of a vineyard

Setting the Stage

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is set during the tense moments leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. He speaks directly to the chief priests and elders, presenting a narrative that serves as both prophecy and rebuke.

"Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went away. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them in the same way. Then he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.' So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" 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 harvest time." Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'? "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces its fruits. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls." When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

The Parable Unpacked

In the parable, a landowner sets up a vineyard and rents it out to tenants before leaving on a journey. When the time comes for the harvest, the tenants mistreat and kill the slaves, and eventually the son, sent by the landowner to collect the fruits. The parable ends with a stern warning about the consequences of such actions, which also hints at the impending crucifixion of Jesus.

Interpretations and Lessons

The parable serves multiple purposes:

  1. Prophecy: It foreshadows the crucifixion, as Jesus himself would be rejected and killed.

  2. Moral Lesson: It speaks to the responsibilities we have toward God and each other, warning against the perils of greed and disobedience.

  3. Theological Insight: It signifies the transfer of God's favor from one group (in context, the Jewish religious leaders) to another (those who follow Jesus).

Real-world Applications

This age-old parable resonates even today as we navigate the complexities of faith, obedience, and social responsibility. It reminds us that our actions have consequences, not just in a worldly sense, but also in the eyes of God.

Reflections and Takeaways

  • How do we apply the lessons from this parable in our lives?

  • What responsibilities do we hold in our personal "vineyards"?

  • How can we ensure we are not rejecting the message sent to us, as the tenants did in the parable?


Next in this Series

Stay tuned for our next blog in this Revised Common Lectionary Series, where we will be exploring Matthew 22:1-14, The Parable of the Wedding Banquet.


We hope this deep dive into Matthew 21:33-46 has given you some food for thought and spiritual nourishment. Feel free to share your reflections in the comments below!

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