Jesus tells the story of the owner of the vineyard to show that his listeners, members of the religious establishment of his time, have missed the point. The story is breathtakingly clear. Those who “get it” have to do away with him. They mock him, deride him and finally kill him.
Who has given Jesus the power to cleanse the temple? Because it’s hard for us to understand life in Jesus’ time, it’s also hard to understand just how fundamental his attack on the moneysellers is. By forgiving sins, Jesus is blasting away at the religious leaders of the day, members of the priestly class.
When I was a kid growing up in the Willamette Valley, local teenagers and migrant laborers would go out together into the strawberry fields to help with the harvest. This parable, with its setting in the vineyard, describes the emotions of us workers—we wanted a fair wage for a fair day’s work.
When Reinhold Niebuhr wrote glowingly in his diary about small churches in rural communities he admitted that some are “small and mean.” He had in mind the church I was serving. Although it has been nearly 20 years, my memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday. For three years I went to bed every night with knots in my stomach.