I think it is fair to say that, for many evangelical Christians today—at least in the Western-influenced world—Christianity is a highly individualistic religion. We emphasise the need for personal conversion and a personal walk with Christ. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. Every Christian must relate to God in a personal capacity. (In fact, we intend at the conclusion of our Sunday evening series in Ecclesiastes to spend several weeks teaching on personal spiritual disciplines.) Too often, however, this personal aspect of our relationship with God becomes our focus to the exclusion of any corporate emphasis.
For example, Christianity has, for far too many, become all about a personal guarantee of getting to heaven. It has been lost on many in the evangelical church that the real emphasis on Scripture is not my personal mansion in heaven but God dwelling corporately with his people on the renewed earth in a renewed cosmos.
Another evidence of the over-individualised emphasis of contemporary Christianity is the way that we individualise many of biblical teachings. Because English, unlike Greek, does not have separate singular and plural second person pronouns, we can sometimes read “you” as singular, when frequently “you” in the New Testament is plural. Something similar sometimes happens when we read the parable of the wicked tenants.
In this parable, Jesus told of a landowner who left a vineyard in charge of tenants. When he later sent his servants to receive the fruit, they mistreated servant after servant. Eventually, he sent his son, whom the tenants killed.
For the most part, the meaning of the parable is quite plain. The vineyard owner represents God. The servants represent the prophets who called for repentance. The son represents Jesus himself. However, sometimes we misinterpret the tenants and the vineyard. We sometimes think that the tenants were the Israelites, each of whom needed to give a personal account to God for their response to the prophets and, ultimately, God’s Son.
In actual fact, the vineyard represents Israel, while the tenants represent Israel’s religious leaders. As the tenants were meant to tend the vineyard so that it produced fruit, so the religious leaders were meant to shepherd Israel so that the nation produced fruit. The threat against the tenants, then, was a threat against then religious leaders, not against every individual Israelite.
Often, when we interpret this parable, we think that it asks questions about our own personal response to the prophetic word and Jesus himself. In point of fact, it may ask greater questions about the way that we shepherd others under our care. In this context, it was the tenants who were wicked, not the vineyard. The owner threatened to destroy the tenants, not the vineyard. The vineyard would instead be given to others. It would be taken from Israel’s religious leaders and instead given into the care of the apostles, who would be responsible to shepherd it so that it brought forth fruit.
The question to ask as we reflect on this parable is, how am I helping others to bring forth fruit? Certainly, each of us has a responsibility for our personal walk with God. But we also each have a responsibility to help others in their walk. Church leaders obviously have this responsibility toward church members, but the principle expands beyond that. Spouses should help one another in this regard. Parents should help their children. Disciplers should help their disciples. Church members should help their fellow church members.
As you reflect on this parable this morning, see if you can identify those whom God is calling you to help produce fruit. How are you helping them? Are you helping others to respond rightly to the word? Are you helping others to respond rightly to Christ? Are you helping others to respond rightly to his church? Recognise your responsibility to do so and then ask God for the strength to be faithful in this calling so that the vineyard of BBC brings forth the fruit that God expects of it.