The Parable of the Tenants (part 2)
[Luke chapter 20, verses 14-26]
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Last week when we left off at verse 13, Jesus was relating his parable of the tenants in the (hypothetical) vineyard, who had rented it from its owner, who was gone on a long journey. As you recall, the owner had sent a couple of servants to try and collect “some of the fruit of the vineyard”, as my NIV Bible puts it. My NLT Bible says the owner “sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop”. But the servants get sent away empty-handed, and with a good butt-whupping to boot. So the man decides he will send his son in the mistaken belief that he will be respected because of his status as the heir to the estate. So at this point let’s take up where we last concluded last week’s study, beginning at verse 14.
“But when they saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir’, they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ ‘So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When the people heard this, they said, ‘May this never be!’ Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’? (Psalm 118, verse 22) Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’ The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” (Luke 20, verses 14-19)
One of the first things that jumps out at me from the above quote is that there are times in life when one’s social or economic status is meaningless, and the owner of the vineyard failed to realize that at first. His failure to grasp the fact that he had rented his vineyard to a gang of criminals cost his son his life. It appears to me that this is a similar situation to what the American people are facing today. If the ‘vineyard’ were Washington, DC, then the ‘tenants’ would be our elected officials, and it would not be an inaccurate statement to say we have a bunch of evil tenants that have taken over the US government. But according to the Declaration of Independence, not to mention the US Constitution, it is “we the people” who are the true landowners and stockholders of this still-great country of ours. So the moral of this part of the story is that if we as a united American people fail to act preemptively against America’s thoroughly corrupt and abusive government, that government, if left unchecked, will ultimately turn on us and kill us all. There are numerous examples from history of this occurring, with Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s Red China being three examples from just the past century alone. If we don’t intervene now against the rampant corruption in our government, the American people would be next on this infamous list.
Keep in mind, too, that this whole conversation got started when the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (like modern-day instructors and professors in Yeshiva’s or Seminaries) had walked up to Jesus while he was teaching at the Temple at Jerusalem and demanded to know the source of his authority. They clearly failed to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. In fact, they were downright suspicious of Jesus, just to give you an idea of just how thoroughly whacked these Pharisees really were. That’s why Jesus quoted the Bible in his response when he said, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’? (Psalm 118, verse 22) Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” Jesus is the capstone, or “cornerstone”, as my NLT calls it. “Broken to pieces”, I’m pretty sure, is a reference to our old selves being broken in the process of surrendering our lives to Christ when we come to recognize and embrace him as our Lord and Savior. But like a seed germinating, our old selves must die so the new self can be reborn. Although we will be “broken to pieces”, the new self God gives us in its place when we commit our lives to Christ is an immortal soul destined for eternity with Jesus in heaven. Those who refuse to believe, on the other hand, “will be crushed”.
“The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” Isn’t this exactly what the authorities do in modern times when they perceive someone as a threat? They are either arrested and jailed like what happens to street protesters and other political activists, or they are assassinated like the Kennedy brothers and Rev. Dr. King, Jr., to name just a few. This kind of deadly shenanigans has been playing out in governments for many centuries, much to the detriment of the people those governments are charged with governing. But in modern times, the ubiquitous nature of the internet is making traditional government obsolete due to the way it decentralizes everything, directly connecting people, business and organizations in a way that was never before possible. But the last sentence is something we should be taking to heart. If we want to be part of the political and economic change we seek, it’s time to make the government really afraid of us, the American people. As you can see, citizen reprisal against their government is in the Bible after all, but that is a topic for another discussion entirely – so for now let’s conclude this week’s lesson starting at verse 20.
“Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s’, they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what his God’s..’ They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.” (Luke 20, verses 20-26)
To use modern terminology, the Pharisees hired the equivalent of private investigators to put Jesus under surveillance, presumably because they had already tried and failed to get the governing authorities to do so. This should be regarded as a testimony to the power Jesus had over the people, who clearly recognized him as the promised Messiah while the better “educated” religious establishment did not. So much for ‘religious education’, which in the case of the Pharisees turns out to be an oxymoron. Yet there is one truth the Pharisees and their henchmen did recognize about our Savior, even though they did so begrudgingly; “….we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth….”. I don’t know about you, but the part about not showing any partiality is the first thing I notice here. They meant ‘showing partiality’ like the Pharisees did, because they were known for their snobbish and arrogant behavior, as well as their openly being condescending towards those they regarded as inferior to themselves. Despite their devout religiosity, these were mean and nasty people, and I’m pretty sure that’s what our Lord and Savior hated most about them.
So then the “spies”, as my NIV Bible calls them, or “secret agents pretending to be honest men”, as my NLT Bible puts it, ask Jesus what we would call a ‘loaded question’. “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?‘” ‘Since you are from God rather than from men as you claim, aren’t you exempt from taxation?’, is the modern equivalent of what they were asking our Lord and Savior. Technically, since Jesus was of the clergy he would have been tax exempt by law similar to today, so an affirmative answer would have been a truthful one. But then he would have been accused of being a tax evader. Had Jesus answered negatively, on the other hand, meaning Jesus would want the taxes paid to himself and not Caesar since he claimed – though not directly – to be the promised Messiah, he would have been judged as having started an insurrection and turned over to the authorities immediately.
But Jesus’ response is classic Jesus as only he could be: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what his God’s.’ They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public….”. ‘Give to each his due and leave me alone so I can work’, is the modern equivalent to what our Lord and Savior was saying to the “secret agents”. Remember, all this had gotten started when the Pharisees, together with their hired henchmen, burst into the temple and interrupted our Lord while he was teaching there. But instead of tripping Jesus up like they thought they could (sometimes people do dumb things due to a lack of faith), Jesus turned the tables on his adversaries instead – and all in full view of Jesus’ apostles and his many followers who were there with him. So a final lesson we can derive this week is that trying to fool God, let alone his Son, is always a really bad and pathetically dumb idea. Let’s not forget that, like a marriage, our relationship with Christ must be based on honesty and accountability. So let’s never forget to always remain transparent in our relationship with our Lord and Savior, because a rich reward awaits all those who execute this faithfully! And next week we’ll move on to part 3 of Luke chapter 20.