We remember that it was on Tuesday morning, coming to Jerusalem again from Bethany, that they passed the fig tree which the Lord had forbidden to bear fruit "hereafter forever," and that it was withered from the roots. That day He was teaching in the temple. His teaching was mostly in parables. Do you remember what a parable is? How is a parable different from other stories?
We have in our lesson today a parable which the Lord told about a vineyard. There are many vineyards in Palestine. A man chooses a piece of ground for his vineyard, he digs a ditch around it three or four feet wide and two feet deep, the earth being thrown up on the inner side. In this pile of earth posts are set three or four feet high and branches are twisted and woven in between them making a firm, solid hedge which will keep out the many animals big and little which would do harm to the vineyard. Then the ground is all dug over, and the cuttings are planted in rows about eight feet apart. In many of the old vineyards a wine press was dug out of the soft rock; a square or oblong tank with a hole near the bottom of one end through which the juice could run into a smaller tank. The grapes were put into the first tank and trodden by men with their clean bare feet, amid much shouting and singing. The juice was then taken out of the smaller tank and put in large earthen vessels which were buried in the earth in a cool place. Often the juice is boiled down into a kind of sweet syrup called "dibs." This gathering of the grapes was a very gay and festal time.
Sometimes a man's vineyard would be right near his house; sometimes it would be far off, and in the time of planting and gathering the grapes he must live in his vineyard and protect it from all enemies, so often a little house was built in the vineyard, and sometimes in the case of a large vineyard a tower with windows near the top where the owner could keep watch at night. A husbandman, or farmer, would often hire a vineyard from another for a number of years, agreeing to pay for it in money or in a part of the fruit, generally a half, and at the time of gathering the owner would send a servant to receive his share.
In the parable of the vineyard the Lord told about His people and their unfaithfulness to Him. They knew that the parable was about them, and they were very angry. Read verses 1-12.
It was Tuesday; the Lord was teaching in the temple courts, where people often gathered to worship and to listen to the teachers. There were many there at this season, for the great feast of the Passover was near. He was telling of a vineyard such as they all knew well, with its hedge and wine press and tower; and about the wicked husbandmen who refused to give to the owner the fruits. Perhaps some who heard Him, knew that He was really telling about His own people and the care that He had taken to teach them and protect them. Perhaps there were some who knew what the vineyard meant, for when the Lord spoke by the prophet Isaiah, long ago, He had called His people a vineyard, and had said, "The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant." (Isaiah 5:1-7) And they all knew that the Psalm meant the Lord's people when it said, "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it." (Psalm 80:8-16) They knew that the parable was about themselves.
And the Lord went on to speak of husbandmen who were left in charge of the vineyard - the priests and others who ought to teach the people from the Scriptures how to live good, heavenly lives. Good deeds were what the Lord meant when He spoke of sending for the fruit of the vineyard. Many servants were sent, but the husbandmen gave them nothing and killed some of them. The servants were the Lord's angels and prophets. And at last He came Himself, He was even then standing with them in the temple, but how little they cared to listen to Him! A few days later they would cry out to have Him crucified. But although they would seem to overcome Him, the Lord led the Jews by their own answer to confess that they were in reality destroying themselves.
When you remember that the question about tribute was not asked to learn what was right, but to find something against the Lord, you see why Pharisees and Herodians came together asking, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?" Caesar was the Roman Emperor, and He taxed the people to build roads and to pay the soldiers to guard the country and to do other things for them. It was a sign of all this that they were using his money. The Pharisees said that it was wrong to pay this tribute. The Herodians said it was right to pay. It seemed that whatever answer the Lord gave, He would offend some of those who asked. He told them to bring a penny. It was a Roman silver coin a little larger than a dime, with the head and name of Caesar on one side. Read the Lord's answer. (Verses 13-17)
Resurrection. This long word means the waking up again to a new life in the other world when we die. There were some people among the Jews, called Sadducees, who did not believe in any life after death. They studied the law of Moses, and they said that there was nothing there about another life. But when they asked the Lord about the resurrection, He showed them that the books of Moses which they studied and believed, do teach that those who have died are living in the other world. It is taught in the story of Moses at the bush. (Exodus 3:6)
1. What is said in Isaiah about the Lord's care in planting a vineyard? What is said in a Psalm about His care for a vine?
2. What is the fruit which the Lord wishes from His vineyard?
3. In what other places is the penny mentioned? What shows its value in those days?
4. Are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still alive? What determines the kind of life that one will live in the other world?
The Lord's church is sometimes called a flock and sometimes a vineyard. What element of heavenly life is especially meant when it is called a flock? Innocent, heavenly affection. And what when it is called a vineyard? Heavenly intelligence leading to sweet Christian uses. Plants and trees that bear fruit represent intelligence in regard to good uses, and the vine especially represents such intelligence of a sweet, heavenly kind. (A. 1069, 5113, 9139; E. 376)
What is the hedge about the vineyard? Intelligence of more natural kinds, orderly habits of childhood, and the proprieties and necessities of life, which are safeguards to the deeper, holier things of heaven. The wine press, where the grapes were trodden out, suggests the ability which the Lord gives through experience of temptation to draw out and purify the deep hidden thoughts and affections. The tower suggests the power which the Lord gives us of rising in thought and looking down upon ourselves, to see where there is danger to be guarded against. The Lord entrusts such a vineyard to every one of us, and He looks for the fruit at its season - for some wise heavenly kindness every day, according to the opportunity. The servants which come asking for the fruit are still the angels, and prophets - heavenly influences, and the reminders of our duty in the Lord's Word. Do we welcome them, or are we indifferent and do we try to put them out of mind? (E. 315)
The question of the Sadducees was primarily in regard to the resurrection, and the Lord answered them on that point from their own authority, Moses. The question also opened the subject of marriage in heaven. The Lord's words have seemed to some to mean that there is no marriage with the angels. They do not mean that. The Lord in His parables called heaven a marriage and a marriage feast. Heaven really consists in the marriage of the soul with the Lord, and in the marriage of good affection and true thought in each heavenly life. We are also taught that there is marriage among the angels, which is most holy and blessed. The Lord's answer means that there is not in heaven such merely natural and external marriage as was known to the Jews. It means also that the marriage of good and truth in the soul and of the soul with the Lord, must be begun if at all in the life of this world. It does not have its beginning, but its development, in the other world, and its quality forever is determined by the beginning made here. And as the marriage among, the angels grows out of the heavenly character of each, this too is determined by the life in this world. (M. 41, 44; H. 366-386) The question of the Sadducees also unconsciously described their own spiritual state. The church with them was the woman. It had taken up one evil motive after another till it had tried all possible ones, with no good result, and now the church itself was about to die.