My wife and I have been doing marital counseling from time to time and somewhere in that counseling I always get the bride’s full attention and tell them, “you’re going to want to drop hints for your husband, signaling what you want, and you’re going to hope that your husband gets those hints and I’m telling you right now, he won’t get any of your hints. None. Zilch. Nada. Zero. Just tell him what you want, you’ll both be happier.” How do I know this is true? I’ve been married for 34 years and I’ve yet to pick up any of my own wife’s signals, or very few anyway.
Like most men, I’m not good at metaphor or hints or allegories or similes, but even I—lunkheaded former Marine—can understand Jesus’ parable to the Jewish leaders who stood opposed to him. They had come to him at the end of the last chapter and asked him by what authority he was doing the things he did and he had declined to answer their question because they wouldn’t answer his question, but then he begins this parable which does answer their question and they are not going to like the answer.
In this parable, Jesus uses several common place parts of their culture to represent various things/people. So without further ado, here is the explanation of the people/things in the parable:
- Vinyard. This represents Israel as virtually every Jew listening to him would have understood. The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant,” reads Is. 5.7, a passage which closely parallels Jesus words concerning this vineyard.
- Tenant Farmers. These are God’s people who were put into the land of Israel to be God’s people. They were responsible for the land and also to obey God.
- Owner of the Vineyard. Obviously and clearly God.
- Owner’s Slaves. These were the prophets of God, whom God had sent to declare his word to his people and who were listened to and obeyed less and less throughout Israel’s history. It’s kind of striking here, but even the Jewish leaders who hated Jesus recognized that their forbears had persecuted God’s prophets: ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous ,and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’” (Matthew 23:29–30, NASB95)
- The Son and the Cornerstone. This is obviously Jesus himself, a fact which his opponents did not need explained to them. In the parable the tenant farmers kill the son in hopes that they will inherit the vineyard, in real life, Jesus was in his last week, that very Friday he would be crucified due to the machinations of those who were present and their ilk.
Mark leaves us no doubt what Jesus’ opponents thought of his parable:
“And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.” (Mark 12:12 NAS95)