Jesus taught His disciples using parables – short stories which explained spiritual concepts using familiar examples from the occupations and tasks of His day. In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus also drew from a parable told by Isaiah almost seven centuries earlier.
Isaiah’s parable referred to God’s people as the fruit of a pleasant vineyard, planted and tended to by the Lord Himself. But despite God’s best efforts, the fruit of the harvest did not turn out well. People went their own way, with fruits that tended towards evil rather than good. God asked Himself what more He could have done with His beloved vineyard.
4 What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help. Isaiah 5:4,7 NKJV
In Jesus’ later parable, His focus was not on the shortcomings of the people of the vineyard, but on those who were charged with “tending” them. Instead of making it easier for the people to turn to God, the religious leaders of the day added burdens and barriers, actually turning people away from Him.
This made Jesus quite upset. He had come not to condemn, but to free the people of the vineyard from the bondage of sin and death. The religious leaders, fearing a loss of power and prestige, tried to stand in His way. They sought to kill Him, and in the end, He allowed them to do it.
Jesus confronted them with His parable:
7 But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. Mark 12:7-8 NKJV
Jesus wanted to remove all the barriers that sin had placed between God and mankind and came to receive all the punishment that justice for our sin demands. He replaces our corrupted nature with His own perfect holiness on the cross, allowing us to be born from above with an eternal life empowered by the Holy Spirit. The religious leaders of the day could not see this, perceiving instead a threat to their own livelihood. They rejected Jesus and turned Him over to the Romans to suffer the cruelest and most painful of deaths.
Jesus laid down His life out of a deep love for all mankind. This was the “more He could have done” for His vineyard – go through the suffering and death they deserved for them, that they may have eternal life.
Then the Father raised Jesus from the dead after three days in the tomb, glorifying Him to ascend into heaven, later to return in glory to reign over all the earth. Isaiah gives us many pieces of the prophetic puzzle that come together to show a Messiah born of a virgin, working divine miracles, experiencing a brutal suffering and death, yet seeing life again, and coming back to rule and reign over the entire world from His throne in Jerusalem, ushering in an era of global peace.
Jesus referred to the vine and the vineyard in several of His parables. He especially instructs all of us to stay connected to Him each and every day – living a fruitful Christian life depends upon it. As Jesus tells us in the gospel of John:
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NKJV
The fifth chapter of Galatians talks about the good fruit that comes from being connected to the spiritual nourishment of the Holy Spirit. Our sinful and selfish characteristics are removed a little at a time as a holy and peaceful character slowly takes their place. It is a lifelong process with many failures along the way. But the Good Vinedresser is loving and patient and helps us through all of our missteps and poor choices, allowing us to face a new and better day ahead.
Lord, thank You for loving me. I need You today and every day. Help me to stay connected to the vine of Jesus and with the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Forgive all of my sins and shortcomings and help me to repair the damage I have done in the past. Prepare me to be a better citizen of heaven by reflecting Your grace, love and charity to others on earth today. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.