Barry Newman's Blog

January 22, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (part XII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 10:46 pm

The oddities of the parable

Carson regards the sending of the son, after all that has happened to the servants, as not as odd as a modern reader might find.  Bailey makes little reference, if any, to the idea that there are features to the parable that are not true to life. Kistemaker seems to believe that the parable would be readily appreciated by the hearers as realistic although his remarks along this line relate to the absentee landlord and the sending of the servants to collect what was owed to him.  Jeremias also apparently thinks that the parable is realistic although he concludes that the slaying of the son was meant to convey to the audience an intensity of wickedness that otherwise they might miss.

One cannot speak with certainty but several features of the parable do stand out to my mind as quite extraordinary – indeed very odd and unrealistic.  However, I am in no way implying that Jesus could not tell a “good story”.  I wish to make a point to the contrary, as shall be explained.

Would any sensible landowner keep on sending servant after servant, all being shamefully treated or worse?  Some were stoned, some were beaten and according to two Gospels, some killed.  One might with considerable hesitation send a second servant, after receiving word that the first had been very badly treated- perhaps there had been some gross misunderstanding, some terrible mistake.  But what if that second servant was likewise abused?  Surely at this point the landowner himself would come or if not send or have sent some law–enforcers, either his own or those belonging to the authorities.  What landowner would really tolerate the beating, the stoning, and the killing of so many servants?

Then, after all this manifestation of extreme toleration, would the landowner really imagine that these evil tenants would somehow radically change their attitude and respect his rights just because he sent his son? Would not the expectation be that these tenants might well treat his son in the same way as they had treated his servants, even if they were to regard their treatment of his son as being of a much more serious nature?  Was the landowner not putting his son knowingly in jeopardy?  Surely if the son were sent he would be sent with a show of force to take over control of the vineyard and to punish the tenants. Of the course the reality would be that God so loved the world that he would give up his only Son.

And how evil can a group of tenants be?  Would they not acquire a terrible reputation?  Who would do business with them in the future?  Who would ever want to come near them? They had become thoroughly evil – completely lawless. Yet to begin with, they were not “outlaws” or political rebels.  They were hired tenants!  To beat, to stone, to kill, to throw a body out of the vineyard, or to stone a person outside the vineyard and then cast the body aside, to be ravaged by dogs!  How unbelievably callous, how utterly evil these tenants were!

And finally, does the landlord in the end simply put in an appearance and destroy the tenants bringing upon them a miserable death. He and whose army – no mention being made of any force other than himself?  (Again, of course, the reality is that God needs no army to assist him.) And then would he simply hand the responsibility for the vineyard over to other tenants?  He had not made a good choice of tenants on the first occasion.  Will he choose any more wisely the next time?

The parable is artificially constructed.  It is a set up.  Jesus is the master story teller.  As with the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed the truth that Jesus intends to convey must shape the parable. Realism must not shape the truth.  What Jesus wishes to portray is profound.  The truth he intends to convey is extraordinary. It is the truth people need to hear.  In this instance, it is not only his disciples that must hear, but also the crowds listening and fundamentally the chief priests, scribes, elders and Pharisees.  And hear it they will.  And for some there will be understanding, at least in part.

For Jesus the truth dominates what he says.  The created story is simply the carrier for that truth.  No one would comment, as Jesus told the story, that it did not ring true. Instead the reaction would be in terms of endeavouring to discern what Jesus was getting at.  The story was a horrific one.  It was spell-binding. No wonder Luke records, some saying, “May it not be!”  And they got the message or at least part of it.  Light dawned, but it exposed extreme evil, demonstrated extreme patience and in the end spoke clearly of extreme judgement.

Jesus was the supreme artist but his artistry was of the most serious kind.


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