“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers…” (Matthew 21:33, NIV)
Why does Jesus of Nazareth launch His brief parable with so much technical detail? Perhaps the Master Storyteller, keenly aware of His audience, knew that the set-up was essential. “This must be distinctly understood,” as Charles Dickens said in one of his famous introductions, “or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”
What details does Jesus linger long over? They are the actions of the landowner:
- He planted the vines
- He put a wall around the vineyard
- He dug a pit for the winepress
- He built a tower
When the landowner was finished, Jesus is saying, the property was a fully equipped, state-of-the-art vineyard. The tenants He selected were handed a turnkey operation. Their job? To make the most of what the landowner had established.
Now, it’s easy to read on quickly, shifting our attention to the actions of the tenants. (You can read the rest of the story here.) But if we don’t pause over this introduction we’re likely to miss the point. Then “nothing wonderful can come of the story…”
Jesus’ carefully chosen first words confront us with two facts:
- The vineyard belongs to the landowner.
- The vineyard lacks nothing.
Those two facts make the behavior of the tenants in Jesus’ story absolutely shocking. They had lost sight of both whose the vineyard was and how well-endowed the vineyard was.
And so, my friend, can we.
Who is Your Landowner?
Jesus’ listeners realized He was describing them. They were the tenants to whom the vineyard had been entrusted. They had received a stewardship from God, and they had ignored His claims on them. Now His Son stood before them, holding them accountable, and they wanted nothing more than to get rid of Him. To stop hearing how they were failing at their job.
Your life and mine—these are our vineyards. Vineyards entrusted to us by God. We are stewards of His property. We did not bring our lives into existence. We had nothing to do with the circumstances of our birth, nor many of the circumstances of our lives. Certainly, the choices we make influence the course of those lives. But the lives themselves are bestowed upon us. We are tenants with responsibility for the Landowner’s vineyards.
What choices shall we make, then, about the care and feeding of our vineyards?
Shall we throw off the yoke of our Landowner, deceiving ourselves that we may do as we please without regard for His natural rights?
Or shall we do all we can to produce the fruit of this lovely piece of property which He placed into our keeping?
We see others struggling with these same questions in another of Jesus’ stories. He tells of three servants entrusted with several talents of silver. (One talent was worth about fifteen years’ wages for a common laborer.) Two servants went out and conducted profitable trade with their capital. The third had an entirely different attitude. Knowing a day of reckoning would be coming, he begrudged his master any income he might have made off his steward’s hard work. When the day came, he handed his master back only what he had given him.
Then he made this accusation:
“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.”
What?! “Where you did not sow”? “Where you scattered no seed”?
Whose silver was that in his hands?!
If we forget whose vineyard we’re tending, we run the risk of being like the rich young man that came to Jesus asking how he could inherit eternal life. Like him, we’ll lose what we say we desire most. That young man couldn’t receive what he was seeking because he thought that his wealthy life—his vineyard—belonged entirely to him. Who was Jesus to require that of him?
Yes, we tend to forget whose our vineyard is.
We also tend to believe our vineyards are inadequate.
What’s In Your Vineyard?
In Jesus’ parable, the vineyard lacks nothing.
Yet, sometimes, don’t we survey the lay of our lives and decide they lack a great deal?
We have each been entrusted with a particular property, attentively established by our wise Landowner to produce fruit of a particular kind. If we think otherwise, what are we really saying? Aren’t we accusing our Sovereign God–the One who gave His only Son for our salvation– of shortchanging us?
I believe I can hear us whining–
- I’m too old! (Or not old enough)
- I could really do something if I had been given more money.
- Without more education, I’m worthless.
- Good looks would have been useful. But this is what I got…
I challenge you: Right now, describe your vineyard.
List all the assets which your Landowner built into your particular piece of property. Go ahead, list your age, your background, your strengths and weaknesses. . . everything that makes you you and not anybody else. Don’t limit the list to the things people call blessings.
To a God who can bring His praise from the mouths of babies, create all things from nothing, and turn the world upside down through fallen fishermen, everything can be an asset.
It’s all part of the state-of-the-art vineyard entrusted to your keeping. Just as grapes from one region taste different from those of another, due to conditions like sunlight, soil, and the vines’ genetics, so the produce of your life is flavored by your unique combination of endowments.
You have all you need to produce the fruit of your vineyard. So go live for the day when your benevolent Landowner invites you to a party celebrating what you have produced from all that He has given to you.
Which of the two facts from Jesus’ story is hardest for you to remember–who owns your vineyard, or how adequate your vineyard is?
How might this quote from A.W. Tozer (from The Pursuit of God) influence your thinking on this subject?
The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom . . . have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. These are the “poor in spirit.” . . . Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”