Matthew 21:40 – “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” NIV
Jesus asked this question at the end of a parable (Matt. 21:33-39) about a landowner who built and planted a great vineyard and then leased it out to tenants. These tenants did not give the owner his portion when his servants came to collect the owner’s share. They mistreated his servants by beating or even killing them. In one final attempt the owner sent his son to collect what was the owner’s share. The tenants reasoned that if they killed the heir, then the vineyard would eventually become theirs. They proceeded to throw the son out of the vineyard and kill him. This is where Jesus asks the question to his listeners.
Given the context of the situation, those who heard Jesus’ parable knew that He was comparing the tenants to Jewish religious leaders who wanted so desperately to get rid of Jesus. They were the ones who had the responsibility to steward the resources of the vineyard which represented Israel. Like the tenants in the parable, they had forgotten who built the vineyard and really owned the vineyard. They forgot that although it had been entrusted to them to run, they did not own it and a portion of the produce was due the owner. As tenants they would receive the remainder of the produce.
I think that Jesus asked this question because he wanted His listeners to draw their own conclusions. He wanted them to become convinced that what was about to happen in the next generation with Israel was not due to a God who was arbitrary or whimsical in His justice but due to the poor management of those who had been entrusted with spiritual leadership and their failure to join God in His mission. Rather, they had used their positions for personal gain and God’s mission had become more words than action.
I certainly believe in a loving, generous, merciful, forgiving God who sent His only begotten Son to this world that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life (John 3:16); but I, also, think it is reasonable to believe that it will be “payday someday” for those who have ignored and/or misused His mission for personal gain. I find no contradiction in the love of God and the justice of God. As I understand it, not everyone will get the reward of eternal life in Jesus’ presence because they have spent their life either ignoring and/or working against the owner of the vineyard!
So what’s this mean for me? What in my life indicates that I view God as the owner and me as the tenant? Am I more concerned about God joining me in my mission in this life, or am I more concerned about joining God in His mission on earth? Who has final say in my life: my intellect/will/feelings or God’s Word? How am I giving back to God from the blessings I’ve received? Do I think God is pleased with how I serve Him or am I more afraid of what He will say someday?