Jesus tells a story about a vineyard. The story is filled with meaning. The setup is very much in tune with Isaiah 5. There is no question about who is who. Not all parables are allegories, but this one has that flavor.
Since Isaiah 5 is definitely in view, we must consider that God is the vineyard owner and the vineyard is his people, Israel. Thus, the tenants must be seen as the leaders of the people, or the priests and chief priests and the high priest.
The focus is not on the cheating of the tenants, but on how they treated the representatives of the owners. They killed and disregarded the prophets that God sent, right down to John the Baptist.
Now, Jesus says, God has sent his son and they will treat him in the same manner. The leaders of Israel convict themselves by answering Jesus’ question about how the owner will handle the situation. “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let the vineyard out to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus switches the metaphor from a vineyard to a building now, perhaps bases on some wordplay between “son” and “stone” in Aramaic. Isaiah 5 also talks about the vineyard of Israel being God’s building, the house of Israel.
The leaders are in the process of rejecting the son, but the rejected stone will turn out to be the most important one in God’s building. At this point, Jesus gets very straight, leaving the world of parables and entering the real world. He tells them directly that God will take the kingdom of God away from them and will give it to new people who will be productive for God.
The chief priest and the Pharisees are incensed and want Jesus dead. (Did they not listen to the parable?) But they fear the people who like Jesus and think he is at least a prophet. They won’t, however, wait long.
The leaders of Israel are not able to discern the working of God. They only want to maintain their power base, which is also quite profitable for them.
It is only fair to extend this parable to the church. We must ask ourselves serious questions about whether we are good tenant for God’s vineyard.