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The Wicked Tenants

Marvel (4-5)Year 1Unit 1 (Marvel at God’s Love)Session 6

The Wicked Tenants

Jesus reminds us that he is God's own Son, sent to save sinful people and worthy of our love and respect.
Faith Nurture Goals
  • Thank and praise God for sending Jesus to us and for offering us forgiveness.
  • Explain how this parable shows God's patience with his people.
  • Suggest ways in which we can show honor and respect for Jesus.
Memory Challenge

Leader Reflection

Preparing to Tell God's Story

Typically, Jesus' parables are stories about ordinary life that have a sharp twist. This one, though, is more like an allegory. As you listen to the story you'll notice that it seems possible to make one-to-one correlations between the people and events of the story and the people and events in real life. The owner of the vineyard seems to stand for God; the vineyard for Israel; the tenants for the religious leaders of Israel; the earlier servants for the prophets; and the owner's son for Jesus, the Messiah. The whole forms a picture of how God brought salvation to the world, and Jesus' listeners could hardly have missed the point.

The context for this parable is that the religious leaders are challenging Jesus' authority. For them, a rabbi's authority and right to teach are based on his identity and religious credentials. Jesus, who just doesn't seem to have the qualifications, must therefore lack the authority.

As was often the case, Jesus' response came in the form of a story. In this story Jesus implies that his authority comes directly from God, that he stands in the line of the great prophets of God, and even that he exceeds them all as the Son and heir.

The main character of the story is actually the absentee landlord. Wealthy people, living apart from their land holdings in cities or elsewhere, would typically rent out some of the land to tenant farmers. These tenants, who often became quite rich and powerful themselves, were tempted to withhold their rent from the distant landlords. If, as sometimes happened, the owner were to die with no heir, the tenants might even claim the land for themselves.

In Jesus' story that's exactly what the tenants do (without even waiting for the death of the landlord!). When the landlord's servant shows up to collect the rent, they beat him up and send him on his way. The next emissary from the master is treated even more shamefully, and the third barely escapes with his life.

Then the disgruntled owner decides to send his own son. Why would he do so, given the abhorrent treatment of the three servants? Jesus wanted to paint a picture of the owner as being extremely patient, kind, and gentle. What other landlord would let the tenants get away with such tactics again and again? Of course, to the tenants the landlord seems harmless and probably even laughable---a bumbling fool. They think they have nothing to fear from him---so they kill his son.

As the story comes to a close, Jesus suggests the obvious: The owner will punish the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Jesus' listeners understand perfectly the implications. "God forbid," they cry in consternation, comprehending as they do Jesus' implied threat that Israel's covenant promises will be given to others.

This story teaches us the absolute centrality of Jesus in God's salvation plan. He is "the stone the builders rejected" that has "become the cornerstone" (Ps. 118:22). He is the One sent by God, the One whom we must honor, respect, and obey.

  • What was going through the minds of Jesus’ listeners during the story?

  • Why did they respond “God forbid!”?

  • What characteristics does the landowner in the story shows us about God?

  • Children, with their keen sense of justice and fairness, will get the point of the story. It’s important to emphasize both the injustice of the tenants and the patience of the landowner.

  • While it’s clear that the story is about Jesus’ rejection by his fellow Jews, it’s important that it’s not told with an anti-Semitic edge. In Romans 9-11 Paul holds out the hope that God will not ultimately abandon his covenant with Irael. So, the point of this parable applies to anyone who rejects Jesus, the Son and heir who has come to reclaim his Father’s world.


Step 1 Gathering for God's Story

  • picture smart
  • word smart
  • ​​people smart

As members of your group begin to arrive, greet them and ask each one to share a highlight from their week. Take a minute to share with the group something about your week too. Also invite volunteers to share any concerns from the week. Take a few minutes to pray about them as a group—either with a chain prayer (each person taking a turn in order) or with popcorn prayers (volunteers offering sentence prayers at will).

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