Mark 12:1-12It seems to me that this parable is especially directed against the teachers of Israel in Jesus' day. It is a parable they readily would have understood because it builds upon a familiar image from Isaiah 5. God is the one who has planted a vineyard and that vineyard is Israel. In Isaiah's story, a song actually, when the vineyard does not produce appropriate fruit, God threatens to remove his protection from it. Of course that is exactly what happened at the time of the Exile, just as Isaiah prophesied.
Then Jesus began to speak to them in parables. 'A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, "They will respect my son." But those tenants said to one another, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours." So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:"The stone that the builders rejectedhas become the cornerstone;this was the Lord's doing,and it is amazing in our eyes"?'When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
Jesus takes this story and does something different with it. In Jesus' story, God has leased the vineyard to certain tenants trusting them to care for it. Presumably those tenants are the teachers of Israel. God sends servants to collect the fruit that his vineyard should be producing. But rather than deliver that fruit, the tenants mistreat the servants of the vineyard owner. In the end, that vineyard owner, God, decides to send his beloved son. The tenants kill the son, thinking to seize the vineyard for themselves. Of course, with this last twist in the story, Jesus was referring to himself as the beloved son and he was telling everyone how he was going to die at the hands of the "tenants of the vineyard".
What does God, the vineyard owner, do in the end? He destroys not the vineyard, but the tenants. And he gives the vineyard to others. He also vindicates his beloved son, the stone the builders rejected.
The Jewish leaders realized Jesus was speaking this parable against them. It incited them to do against Jesus exactly what the story depicted. But that is not the end of the story. Jesus was vindicated by his resurrection, and the vineyard was taken away from the Jewish leaders in AD 70 and the vineyard given to others, the leaders of God's church, now inclusive of Jews and Gentiles.
What does this parable have to say to us today? Sometimes are we not a bit like the tenants? Do we not often want to do our own thing with God's vineyard (our own lives) rather than giving him the fruit our lives ought to produce?
And do we even recognize God when he comes to us in the form of prophets, or even in the form of his beloved son? How might God be trying to speak to us today? What fruit does he want us to produce?