Chapters 21-23 of Matthew are sometimes referenced as the “confrontation” section of his gospel. Matthew tell us that when Jesus and his followers had come to Jerusalem, though multitudes of holiday visitors flocked to see him, he was made to feel much less than welcomed by the religious authorities. After openly challenging his authority as a teacher and healer, Jesus replied by telling stories—parables and allegories—which left the disciples wondering and the temple authorities fuming.
The story at the heart of today’s lesson describes a landowner who bought some property, and then leased it to others while he went overseas. At harvest-time, the landowner sent messengers to receive his share of the yield from his land…but those who’d leased the land were unwilling to part with any of the proceeds. Instead, they beat up and even killed the messengers and servants the landowner had sent. In desperation, the owner sent his son (thinking they’d at least respect the family name), but he too was killed. A kind of coup had taken place!
Jesus concluded by asking the religious authorities what they thought the landowner would do when he himself returned, and the authorities rightly judged that the landowner would restore justice. At which point, Matthew tells us, Jesus told them “you are also tenants, and God has leased his Kingdom into your care. And now it’s time…the harvest is due…Lessee, what you got?”