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Matthew 21:33-46 – The Parable of the Vineyard

Summary

Shortly after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus teaches about his impending death through a parable about tenants who seize and kill the landowner's son. These events are interpreted as fulfillment of prophecy about rejection and vindication.

Analysis

In the midst of his controversy with the leaders of the temple that accompanies his teaching just before the passion, Jesus tells this parable of the vineyard as a thinly disguised allegory of his passion and death. Matthew has taken over this parable from Mark (12:1-12), which clearly begins with reflection on the vineyard of God in Isaiah 5:1-7 and interprets Jesus' messianic death in terms of prophecy about a rejected stone that has become the chief cornerstone (Psalm 118:22-23). However, he has thoroughly modified it, by expanding it, making it more clearly allegorical of the passion, and linking it more pointedly to Matthean themes.

Among others, this may be seen in the added double reference to "hearing" that begins and concludes the parable (21:33, 45). This places the parable alongside other examples of the disciple call to hear and respond. The impression is further strengthened in the explicit double reference to the "kingdom of God" as belonging to those who produce its "fruits" (21:43), which picks up the theme of bearing fruit already present throughout the parable. Finally, in noting that the chief priests and Pharisees recognize the parable to be about themselves, the parable anticipates the following attempts to trap Jesus in argument (22:15-46) that lead to their becoming silent (22:46) and Jesus' lengthy denunciation (23:1-39).

Matthew 21:33-46

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They 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 the harvest time.’

42 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”?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.* 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’*

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

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10 February 2011

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