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Parables Bible Study 10: The Vineyard (Wicked Husbandmen)

Title: Parables Bible Study 10: The Vineyard (Wicked Husbandmen)

Subject: God Sends His Son and the Kingdom of Heaven

Age: 13+ years


  • Matthew 21:33-41
  • Mark chapter 12
  • Luke chapter 20

Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet

Begin the bible study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.

Immediately preceding this parable we have Jesus' entry, cleansing of the temple, the cursing of the fig tree, the questioning of Jesus' authority, and the finally the Parable of the Two Sons. Jesus encounters the Jewish religious leadership. In this encounter He accuses them of hypocrisy, falseness, and misleading the people. The fig tree is a theme of fruitlessness; the two sons is unfaithfulness. In the end of this encounter comes the Parable of the Vineyard.

The main characters of this parable are the following:

  • The Landowner is God.
  • The Vineyard represents the people of God, specifically the nation of Israel. See Isaiah 5:4-7.
  • The Husbandmen are the leaders of Israel, Kings and Priests.

The audience of this parable would not have missed these points and connections with the Old Testament. Even today we must recognize the special covenant made between God and the Hebrew people. The covenant stands and its final outcome is unknown. For a discussion on it see Romans chapters 10 through 12. Here the great Apostle deals with this question. The nation of Israel is God's vineyard and God provided for His people, such is the witness of the Old Testament. Moreover, God had ordained that the leaders of Israel, its Kings and Priests were to be stewards of God's vineyard, executing righteousness, remaining faithful, etc.

In verse 33 we see how God provides:

  • The hedge, symbolizing a shield of God's divine power;
  • The wine press, the scene of spiritual effort bringing forth the fruit of good works;
  • The tower, the beacon or shelter of the Law, designed to guide them to righteousness. (See St. Ambrose, Treatise of the Gospel of St. Luke, Book 9, 24, from The Parables by Archbishop Dimitry).

The householder, God, lets out the vineyard to its husbandmen (the religious leadership), and departs into a far country. The Lord entrusts the vineyard to the appointed leadership. This shows patience and an opportunity for development.
Verses 34-36 call to mind the Prophets, see 1 Kings 18:4, 19:10, 22:24-27. The prophets had been sent by God to remind the people of their covenant with God. They also were to remind the people of the necessity to repent from their idolatry and sinfulness and turn back to God. This failure inside the parable, the behavior of the husbandmen and his servants, would have sounded familiar to the Jews of Jesus' day.

In verses 37-39, after the Prophets are rejected, God ups the stake, showing His great concern and thus love for His people. He sends His son. Why do they kill him? First, we notice that they recognized the son. Second, they wanted to seize the inheritance. It appears that they forgot that they were mere stewards. They seek to take possession of what is not theirs. This action seems very similar to the action of our fore-parents.

Jesus is recounting the rejection of the prophets, describing their rejection of Him, and prophesying of His ultimate rejection; His crucifixion. Note how dangerous we become when we see ourselves as masters. Forgetting God's sovereignty leads to the rejection of His ultimate desire for us: a covenantal relationship. It also leads us to murder. We become estranged from God, the other, and in the end, from ourselves. Recall that after Adam and Eve's expulsion, their son murders his brother.

There is an additional prophecy: Jesus is crucified outside the city, and so is the son in this parable cast out of the vineyard before he is put to death.

A question directed at the chief priests and elders in verses 40 and 41: "Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?" They answer and thus condemn themselves.

God's just judgment results in the replacement of the husbandmen in verses 42-43. The new nation that bears God's promises and covenant is the Church. Romans 8:16-17:
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."

This parable gives no room for anti-Semitism. Rather, our own loyalty or disobedience carries the same price of a broken covenant. Now, there is no need for additional prophets or messengers; Christ has come. There will not be further dispensation or revelation. Christ has come and those who have believed in Him and become members of His Church have entered into a covenant with Him and are responsible for keeping it. (The Parables, p. 72)

He has also told us that there will be an accounting, the judgment, and that everyone will be judged according to his deeds. We must not live as if there were no impending judgment. This parable reminds us that the Lord will return and expect fruit from the keepers of the vineyard. Many today "behave as if the Master [now that] He [has] established the new Israel, the new vineyard, [has] abandoned it and no longer [holds] its husbandmen responsible. In this they differ little from the husbandmen of the parable. Holy Scripture, in fact the whole tradition of the Church, teaches exactly the opposite. The Lord loves the Church, His beloved plant, because He gave himself for it, but the work of the Church, even in [today] must be done His way." (op. cit., p. 73).

At this time, read the passage once more and again, allow time for quiet reflection. If there is time, you may have a discussion.

End the bible study with a prayer.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

Click the link to return to the Parables Bible Study page or continue to the next Parables Bible Study session:  The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.