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"Jesus told another story to the people. 'A man planted a vineyard. He handed it over to farmhands and went on a trip....In time he sent a servant back to the farmhands to collect the profits, but they beat him and sent him off empty-handed....'
"Then the owner of the vineyard said,'...I'll send my beloved son. They are bound to respect my son.'
"But when the farmhands saw him coming, they quickly put their heads together. '...This is the heir! Let's kill him and have it all to ourselves.' They killed him and threw him over the fence...
"'What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? Right. He'll come and clean house. Then he'll assign the care of the vineyard to others..'" Luke 20:9-15. (The Message).
What a daring story!
Although Jesus was not afraid of outright exposure, which He sometimes used to strip off the masks of the religious frauds who tried to make out that they had impeccable religious performance records, a story like this one did the job just as well. Since parables were a rabbinical device to be heard or read for identification, they would have had to get the point, which did nothing to endear Jesus to them!
There is both symbolism and character portrayal in this parable. The vine was often used in the Old Testament as a symbol of Israel. "I will sing for the one I love a song about His vineyard: My loved one has a vineyard on a fertile hill..." Isaiah 5:1 (NIV). "Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones." Hosea 10:1 (NIV).
Both Isaiah and Hosea saw Israel as God's vineyard, planted in their own land and tenderly cared for but treacherously unfaithful to their Creator.
In this story, the focus is on the leaders of God's 'vineyard'. The owner entrusted his vineyard to caretakers while he was away. He expected the farmhands to care for it faithfully and to give him the profits which rightfully belonged to him. Instead, the farmhands treated the property as though it were theirs and drove off any attempt to retrieve what was his.
What an exposure of the attitude of Israel's spiritual leaders! They treated the people, not as a trust, but as their possession, teaching them falsehood and leading them astray so that they could maintain power over them. They resented Jesus' intrusion because His passion was to show His people what God was really like and to set them free from these unscrupulous overlords.
They respected neither the prophets who were sent to challenge their power and their false teaching, nor the Son Himself who came from the Father to set the record straight and to restore His people to the Father. They had only one intent - to kill the Son so that they could retain the power to dominate His people.
Spiritual leadership is a sacred trust from God and those who are appointed to lead are both responsible and accountable to God because the people are His. What happens to them is the outcome of who leads and how they lead. Leaders and people are bonded together for one purpose - to be a reward for the sacrifice Jesus made to rescue us from the clutches of the devil and to reconcile and restore us to the Father.
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account..." Hebrews 13:17a (NIV).
Israel's religous leaders forgot their sacred trust and were treated accordingly. To those of us who lead comes the reminder that we do not own the people. Our task is to be faithful imitators of our Rabbi so that we can attach them to Him, not to ourselves, for the eternal reward is His, not ours.
Our reward will be to hear His words, 'Well done, good and faithful servant..."
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