The parable of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21:33-46 has been rewritten as an allegory of salvation history. By skillfully modifying the material he found in Mark, Matthew makes it clearer that the violent response of the wicked tenants to the servants sent by the owner of the vineyard symbolizes the hardness of heart of Israel’s leaders, a condition that will lead to their outright rebellion in murdering the son of the vineyard’s owner, symbolized by God. Jesus pronounces judgment on these leaders on the basis of their understanding of the parable: the vineyard will be taken away from them and given to another people who will guarantee that the owner will get his share of the vineyard’s produce.
Matthew 21:33-46: The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
Sunday Thoughts: The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
The Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard
The Tenants of the Vineyard
The Vineyard of the Lord
Guide For Reading
The structure of Matthew 21:33-46 is quite simple and easy to understand. First, there is the parable itself, then the part where Jesus gives the lesson of the parable based on the answer of his interlocutor to a previous question. Finally, the reaction of the interlocutors which also serves as conclusion.
- The Parable Proper
- Make a list of the verbs associated with these subjects: the landowner, the tenants. See what kind of verbs these are (e.g. constructive, violent, etc.).
- Note where the dialogues appear. These are the parts where the author of the story wants the readers to concentrate.
- The parable is a short story. It must have a beginning, a tension that reaches a climax and a resolution. Identify which parts of the parable is the beginning, the tension, the climax and the resolution.
- The Moral Lesson
- Compare how Jesus draws the moral lesson here and the one from the preceding Parable of the Two Sons: there is a question, the answer to the question and Jesus explaining the lesson on the basis of the question.
- Try to break down the lesson of Jesus to smaller parts.
- The first part is a quotatiion from Psalm 118:22-23. As it is used in the present parable, to what or to whom does the “stone rejected” refer?
- What is the judgment that Jesus pronounces on his interlocutors?
- The Reaction
- Did Jesus’ interlocutors understand what he was saying?
- What did they intend to do/
- Were they able to carry out their intention? Why?
- Compare the state of mind of Jesus’ interlocutors here to that of his interlocutors in Matthew 21:25-27. Is there a similarity here?
Comparing the Readings
The first reading for the 27th Sunday is taken from Isaiah’s the Vineyard Song which is alluded to in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. In Isaiah 5:1-7, the song of the vineyard introduces the charges of the Lord against his vineyard, Israel, which gives off bad fruits instead of good ones. In the Gospel, the tenants of the vineyard prevent the owner from enjoying his share of the vineyard’s fruits. The responsorial psalm dated from the time of the exile (or post exile) brings to memory what the Lord has done to its vineyard, both past and present; it becomes a petition that invites the Lord to show his mercy on his vineyard once more and save it The reading from Philippians 4:6-9 has nothing to do with the vineyard imagery of the first reading, the psalm and the gospels. But it does say something to those who are in the Church, the vineyard of the Lord.
Suggestions for the Lesson Plan
You may make use of CCC 755 as the main framework for the lesson plan:
The Church is a cultivated fiield, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again. The land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true viine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is , to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing.
See the Sunday Thoughts for the 27th Sunday for possible applications. In the old Bible Notes article there is a list of the recurrences of the word “fruit(s)” in Matthew. Among the synoptics gospels, Matthew shows the greatest interest for “fruits”. This is reflected too in the parable of the wicked tenants. John the Baptist called for fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:10). When Jesus arriving with the authority of the son came looking for those fruits among Israel’s leaders, he didn’t find any. Even if the privileges of the old Israel has been transferred to the Church, the same requirement is still asked: fruitfulness. The oracle in Isaiah 5:1-7 can still be a warning for us who have been grafted into the tree of God’s Israel.