Jesus once asked his disciples a startling question: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18.8 NIV). Perhaps the very notion that God will require an account from each and every individual is considered either quaint or ludicrous today. On the other hand, most of us hold out that God will eventually make all the unfixable wrongs right—one day.
One of the most powerful images God uses to help us understand that a day of reckoning is coming is that of the vineyard. As early as the prophet Isaiah (as in Isaiah 5.1-8), God spoke of his loving care for his people in the “Song of the Vineyard.” In this song, God speaks of himself as one who had a vineyard, which he lovingly tended:
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
When the time for harvest came the loved one looks for grapes only to find rotten fruit. In exasperation, God asks
“What more could I have done?”
In his anger, God then shares his intent: he will destroy the vineyard so it becomes a wasteland (which it really is already).
Then Isaiah points out, the vineyard is really the house of Israel and the house of Judah (God’s people); so when God came looking for justice and righteousness, he found bloodshed and cries of distress.
When Jesus told the parable about the “tenants in the vineyard” (Mark 12.1-12), it did not take much imagination to see that he was doing an updated version of the “Song of the Vineyard.”
In the parable a man (God as we learn soon enough) planted a vineyard with a wall, a winepress and a watchtower (as in Isaiah 5.2).
When harvest time came the owner sent a servant to collect the rent from the tenants, but the tenants responded in hostility. They did this several times, even killing some of the servants.
Finally the owner decides to send his son, since surely they would treat the heir much better. Yet they reasoned with one another: “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” Not only did they kill him, they threw his body outside the wall of the vineyard.
After Jesus finished this story, he asked, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?”
To this question, Jesus also answers, “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
The Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus because they knew the parable was spoken about them. However, Jesus merely pointed to one of God’s greatest concerns: that his people be fruitful.
While this is not a pleasant story, and I like it much better when I see it applied to the religious leaders of the first century, it is probably spiritually insightful to ask,
“When the time to pay the rent comes due, what will we be able to show God as evidence that we tended his garden well?”