The parable of the vineyard and the tenants (Matt 21:33–45) is fascinating to Palestinian readers. Its components are very familiar to us. It mentions the owner of the land, a wall, watch towers, violence, bloodshed, land disputes, injustices, and getting rid of the true owner of the vineyard. It is like a Palestinian contemporary movie videotaped in the West Bank. The owner of the land provided all the needed tools. He built a fence and a tower to protect his land, and a winepress to enjoy its fruits (v. 33). He trusted others and wanted to share the goodness of the land by providing jobs and allowing others to work together for the common good. He wanted the fruit of his own land.
However, a group of farmers stole the land and transformed the fence of protection into a wall of an illegal empire. The watchtowers became the place in which the farmers saw the servants of the owner of the land and decided to get rid of them (vv. 34-36). These illegal settlers of the vineyard used every possible means to keep the land in their hands. They were willing to use escalating violent measures starting from beating, to stoning, to killing the messengers of justice who wanted to return the land to its true owner. Eventually, the owner of the land sent his son but when they saw the heir of the land they conspired to kill the son of the owner and seize the inheritance (vv. 37-38). In other words, the text brings together Christmas and Easter. The coming of the son and the killing of the son are succinctly juxtaposed to each other. Both are intimately related to bringing about the Kingdom of God.
The time of the fruit or better the Kairos, using the Greek text, has come. The appointed time in which we are expected to give an account to a just God has come. This appointed time reaches its climax in the coming of the son who is the legal owner of the vineyard. He is coming to restore the vineyard to his father, its legal owner. He is a messenger of justice and judgment. He will bring justice for the owner and judgment upon the wicked farmers. However, Christmas is transformed into Easter. The good news about the coming of the son is transformed into an ugly seen. The wicked farmers killed the son (v. 39) yet they are not able to escape the appointed divine moment. For in their persistent unjust actions they have rejected the will of God.
No one can twist the arm of God. Killing the son transformed him into a crushing stone. This stone is the true owner of the land who has been rejected. He is going to be the foundation of a new reality (v. 42). God will restore the stolen vineyard. The death of the son outside the vineyard (or Jerusalem if you wish) and his resurrection created a new people. The unjust settlers will lose the land. The land will be given to a new group of people who are willing to serve God and give the fruits back to Him (v. 43).
This biblical parable has a lot to say to Palestinians. First, we are like the servants of the owner of the land. We obediently march towards the illegal settlers with a prophetic divine message. Palestinian Christians in particular can be divine messengers who proclaim that God owns the land. God, not the Jews or the Palestinians own the land. We can also proclaim that the land of God cannot be seized by oppression or violence or illegal actions.
Second, Palestinian Christians should be willing to suffer in order to proclaim the prophetic divine message. It is a salvific message full of justice and love, a message that is rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. When we suffer as a result of proclaiming the prophetic divine message then our suffering is similar to the servants or prophets who insisted on justice and righteousness. It is also similar to the suffering of the son or Jesus Christ who was drawn outside his land (v. 39) and killed. We will be a blessed people. The Bible says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12).
Third, Palestinian Christian should remember that the owner of the land is the winning party. His plan will be accomplished and His Kingdom will continue to grow. God will accomplish his just will through our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to put our faith in the power of Jesus Christ and his message. He was fully committed to loving the wicked farmers and was equally committed to bring about justice. He was born the first time in Bethlehem to bring about the Kingdom of God and was born the second time in Jerusalem (cf. Ps 2:7) to establish this eternal impeccable Kingdom. His Kingdom is not only the antidote of every evil but is also the incarnation of God’s love, Justice, and Grace. It can be fully seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
Fourth, I hope that both Palestinians and Jews will come to Jesus Christ and accept the stone that has been rejected by many builders. Accepting Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, is the means of becoming part of the group that will receive the Kingdom of God. The vineyard will always belong to the Son. Its farmers, however, will stay in it as long as they honor the principles advocated by the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and righteousness. It is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. In this Christmas, we celebrate that Christ is coming. The true celebration is by honoring Christ and advocating His Kingdom. May we all follow him, be faithful citizens of His Kingdom, and proclaim his message with a heart full of faith, love, hope, righteousness, and justice.
Rev. Yohanna Katanacho, PhD Serves as the Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College