Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and dig a wine press in it…
The priests and elders already stood convicted of having incapacitated themselves for recognizing the Divine in Jesus. But theirs was not the guilt of common unbelievers. It was not merely their personal, but their official duty to keep themselves awake to the Divine, by righteousness of life. It was the duty for which their office existed. They are as agents whom a man has appointed to manage his business, and who use their position only to enrich themselves. The parable under which this judgment is carried home to them is one they could not fail to understand. The vineyard was Israel - the small section of humanity railed off from the degrading barbarism around, as if to try what could be done by bestowing every advantage that could help men to produce the proper fruit of men. Nothing was wanting which could win them to holiness, nothing which could enlarge, purify, fertilize human nature. The result was that they were content, as many professing religion are content now, with receiving and doing nothing. They measured themselves by the care God spent on them, not by the fruit they yielded; by the amount of instruction, the grace they received, not by the use that they made of it. Again and again God sent to remind them he was expecting fruit of his care, but his messengers speedily found that they were willing enough to live upon God, but not to live to him. But it is the keepers of the vineyard who are here censured for unfaithfulness, and that on two grounds.
1. They used their position solely for their own advantage. They had failed to remember they were servants. The religious leader is as liable as the political or military leader to be led by a desire for distinction, applause, power. Success may be the idol of the one as truly as of the other. It is not the sphere in which one's work is done that proves its spirituality or worthiness, nor even the nature of it, but the motive.
2. They are censured for their zeal in proselytizing - a more insidious form of the temptation to use their position for their own ends. The indignation of our Lord was roused by the same element in their zeal, which so often still taints zeal for the propagation of religious truth. It was the desire rather to bring men to their way of thinking than to bring them to the truth. How widespreading and deep reaching this evil is those well know who have observed how dangerously near propagandism is to persecution. The zeal that proceeds from loving consideration of others does not, when opposed, darken into violence and ferocity. If we become bitter and fierce when contradicted, we may recognize our zeal as springing from desire to have our own influence acknowledged, rather than from deep love of others, or regard for the truth as truth. The condemnation of the parable our Lord enforces by reference to the Scriptures of which they professed to be guardians. Rejection by the builders was one of the marks of the Foundationstone chosen by God. They cavilled at his allowing the hosanna psalm to be applied to himself, but this was itself proof that he was what the crowd affirmed him to be. Note:
(1) That Jesus claims to be the Heir of God. In acting for God he acted for himself.
(2) He implies that this was known to the Jewish leaders. It was because they knew he was the Heir they were so eager to remove him. Their state of mind is intelligible and very common. There are thousands who have a haunting suspicion that Jesus deserves very different kind of recognition from what they give him, but who will not let their minds dwell on the conviction, lest it should urge them to unwelcome action.
(3) The very fact that Christ is rejected by so many is proof that he is Divine. The higher the blessing the fewer there are who acknowledge and accept it. Our Lord completes the warning, abandoning the figure of the parable, and making use of the figure of the stone.
(1) Christ is a Stone of stumbling to those to whom he is presented. The gospel once heard must henceforward be an element in the condition of the hearer. No man who has heard can be as if he had not heard. Men are often conscious that he is the one Foundation on whom life can be safely built, and yet they try to pass on in life as if he were not there. While they do so they are held back, distracted; their life is a mere make-believe. Or habitual falseness of spirit is produced, it may be unconsciously to themselves. But the frost that has only lasted a few minutes is as surely frost as when it has formed a strength of surface the hammer cannot break. Each refusal to determine regarding Christ leaves the conscience a little blunter. It is thus men are bruised on this Stone of stumbling.
(2) The second action of the Stone is final. Those who determinedly oppose Christ lie at once slain and buried by what should have been their joy. Their dwelling and refuge become their tomb. Things are to move on eternally in fulfilment of the will of Christ. To oppose his course, to attempt to work cut an eternal success apart from him, is as idle as to stand on the path of an avalanche of stone in order to stem it. Acceptance or rejection of Christ is the determining element in human destiny. Without him we can make nothing or worse than nothing of life. "Better," will a man say - "better that a millstone had been hanged about nay neck, and that I had been cast into the sea, than that I should have lived to reject him." Think of it more, go closer to him, keep yourself in the light of his words and life, and you will see that it is so, and must be so, that he is the Hand of God stretched out to us, the Word of God spoken to us out of the silence. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
WEB: "Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household, who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a winepress in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country.