Then he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 2When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. 5Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. 6He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 7But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” 8So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10Have you not read this scripture:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;*
11 this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?’
12 When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
Jesus said he would not tell them where his authority came from, but then he tells a parable that shows just that, if they really listen. (This parable definitely belongs with the previous segment, in chapter 11.) It is a story about a landowner and his tenants, but it is so very much more. To understand the impact, one must see, as those scribes, priests, and Pharisees would have understood immediately, that Jesus is referring to a passage in Isaiah:
Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
Everyone listening understands that the vineyard is Jerusalem and Judah, and it is clear to the Pharisees and the chief priests that Jesus is referring to them as the unfaithful tenants. These tenants do not produce a yield for the owner of the vineyard (God); they do not share the proceeds of the vineyard with God. And so, the owner sends servants to remind them of their debt – these are the prophets, whom the religious leaders and the rulers have beaten or killed down through time, including, finally, John the Baptist, whom they killed. And then the owner, God, sent his own Son – surely they would respect his Son! But they did not, they beat him and crucified him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do? What would God do? He would come and he would take the vineyard from the unfaithful tenants, Jesus says he will destroy those tenants, and give it to others. He then quotes scripture again, this time Psalm 118:22 – 23, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
The chief priests, Pharisees, and scribes had come to accuse Jesus, but now they realize that they are the accused. They know that they are the focus of this parable, and they are angry! But they are still in the courts of the temple, and there is a crowd of people around. They fear a riot, and so, they left him and went away.
The picture attached is the base of a pit for a winepress, located in the area known as the Garden Tomb, which is now in Jerusalem.