22 June 2013

Luke 20:9-18

“And he sent yet a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’” (vv. 12-13)


Having absentee landlords is not a new idea. Palestine was at this time occupied by the might of Rome and had known many other conquests during its history, as it has since. All those listening to Jesus tell this story would feel some relationship to their own experience. Indeed, some might have felt they understood the temptation, in hard economic times, to withhold the rent and had a great deal of sympathy with it. In some cases, the death of the heir meant an estate would be declared 'ownerless property', in which case the occupiers would have had first claim. But it was also the case that his listeners would probably have expected a vineyard story to be about their country and their faith. (In biblical times, a vineyard was a common image for Israel.)

Jesus used that understanding to invite the listeners to remember the history of how people had reacted to the claims of God. There are many instances of God's people rejecting the prophets and their sometimes challenging message, and imprisoning, or banning or even killing them. Since it was usually the authorities who had been responsible for this, it is not surprising that the authorities of Jesus' own time knew they were being got at. Jesus may even have been hinting at the eventual destruction of Jerusalem by the occupying power, which many believe he predicted.

The idea that the owner sent his son would have reminded people of their expectation that God would indeed send his own special representative (sometime referred to as his son, sometimes as his anointed) the Messiah to set them free. Today, many see this as meaning Jesus himself and understand this as a reference to his death on the cross. For some it is important to recognise in this God's generosity to all people.

To Ponder

  • How do you feel about good stories which reveal the failings of authority figures?
  • What stories would you like to tell to encourage or challenge people?
  • What, if anything, in this story invites you to reflect on your relationship with God?

Bible notes author

Revd Alison Tomlin

Alison Tomlin is a supernumerary Methodist minister, who was president of the Methodist Conference in 2010/2011. She has been involved for the last 25 years in leading retreats and offering prayer, accompanying both groups and individuals.