Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Parable of the Old Man's Vineyard

If you blog long enough you end up meeting great people. Shawn Smucker is the friend of a friend of a friend--and I met that friend via blogging. Shawn, his wife, and four kids live in Paradise, literally (Paradise, PA--although I smell a tourism board at work somewhere). Everything I know about Shawn I know through the magic of the Interwebs, but I can tell you this: I like what I know, and if you check out his blog or follow him on the Twitter you will like it, too. 

The old man bends over and picks up a handful of soil. Fertile soil. He runs it through his finger – it crumbles and falls heavily to the ground. The sound is like the pounding of the first raindrops.
All around him, activity: carts arriving with stone, hammers pounding boards together, and men shouting to one another. A high stone wall rises against the horizon. Inside it, huge green leaves drape down over the tiniest orbs: the beginnings of grapes. A tower rises in the center, overlooks the vineyard and the stone wall and the surrounding countryside. It is like the eye of God, the center of the universe.
The old man owns the vineyard, but something leads him away. Something demands his attention elsewhere. He leases the land to a group of farmers; they are eager to make their fortune on this man’s fully prepared estate. They don’t have to spend a penny – everything is ready. The crop is even planted. All they have to do is harvest it.
The old man leaves.
* * * * *
Months later, the harvest. The old man cannot return – perhaps he is frail. Perhaps he has many such vineyards and cannot be everywhere at once. In any case, he sends three of his most trusted servants to collect his share of the grapes.
The farmers stand in the tower they did not build, looking out over the vineyard they did not plant, surrounded by a wall of stones they did not hew. They see the servants approaching from a long way off. Perhaps they are worried that the old man is coming back to end the lease. Perhaps they have gotten used to their newfound wealth, having made no initial investment. 
They meet the servants outside the stone wall. They beat the first one until he can only watch. They kill the next one instantly. But they surround the third servant and begin the slow work of murder by stoning until he is nothing but a hunk of bloody meat and exposed bone, his heart still beating. Then they draw closer and throw stones at his head until he dies, his skull crushed. 
The farmers walk back inside the stone wall. The beaten servant returns to the old man. His is a slow, painful journey.
* * * * *
The old man sends more servants. Perhaps if they see that he is persistent, and that he can come in greater numbers, they will simply give him his fair share.
But the farmers have gone too far. They cannot reverse their course. When this new batch of servants arrives, the farmers beat some, kill others. Blood forms small pools on the road leading up to the vineyard. The bodies draw flies. Inside, the farmers continue to harvest the grapes, their fingers stained by the juice.
* * * * *
The old man stares out from his house, far from the vineyard. He ponders the news – more servants killed. Still no payment. The sun sets, yellows and reds and oranges streaking across the sky. He can walk away, count the venture as lost. Or he can still try to reconcile with them.
He calls out to a servant who approaches with humility.
“Yes, my Lord?”
The old man pauses, and as the sky slips toward darkness, he whispers something. He does not tell the servant to gather an ever larger contingent. He does not tell the servant to send for mercenaries by which he will win back his vineyard. No, he asks for something different.
“Bring me my son.”
* * * * *
Sending his son is not a power play, at least not in the brute force sense of power. The son is not some special forces operative planning on sneaking in and killing them all in their sleep. He is not leading a group of soldiers. He is going alone.  
His father sends him in hopes that the farmers will be reminded. Who owns this vineyard? Who built the stone wall? The tower? To whom does all of this belong? The old man is hoping that the farmers will see his son as the embodiment of himself, and that they will respect his son as they respected him before he left.
But as the son approaches, the farmer’s meet him outside the stone wall. There is a moment of silence as the son stares at the men. They kill him without remorse.
The old man has no other heir to take over his estate, they reason. We can own the vineyard. 
The son lies dead outside the vineyard. It is finished. Or so the farmers believe.
* * * * *
What will the old man do to the farmers? Jesus asked the leaders.
He’ll kill them and lease the vineyard to those who give him his fair share, they exclaimed.
So I tell you, Jesus said, that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to people who do the things God wants in his kingdom.
* * * * *
What do I say to God when he asks me to return these things that have always been his? Do I trust him with my children? With my money? With my dreams?
Am I prepared to do the things he asks me to do, even when it involves giving my most precious possessions back to him?
Offering, and not acquisition, has always formed the entrance to the kingdom.


  1. I am moved to acknowledge the post, but am speechless. Stunned.

    I know the story, understand the principles, and even agree with them wholeheartedly. It still feels like being jolted awake with a bucket of cold water.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Don. I felt the same way as I poured over the story again and again. I still feel like there's something I'm missing in this story, something crucial. It just doesn't make sense in any earthly way for a father to send his son into that kind of situation. Anyway, thanks for your comment. Merry Christmas.