The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
It was very clear to the earliest followers of Jesus that Jesus was a prophet like the other prophets who came before him (see Luke 4:24; John 6:14; Jn 9:17).
However, the Gospel writers were eager to teach that Jesus was not like other prophets, but that he was the Son of God. In their zeal, they did not stop to realise that their doctrine does not do justice to God. Some of what they reported in the Gospels reflect badly on God. But they did not seem to realise this. Take for example the parable of the wicked tenants reported in the first three Gospels.
The Gospels show that Jesus wanted to confront the Jews about their history of killing the prophets, and of their intention to kill him also. So he told them the following parable which clearly was about them. The story is as follows:
“A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some to the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some they beat, others they killed. He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:1-9).
In this parable, the wicked tenants represent the Jews, the servants represent the prophets whom God sent one after another; and the owner of the vineyard represents God. The son obviously represents Jesus whom God sent last of all. So Jesus is shown to be different from the prophets. He is not one of the servants. He is a beloved son. At least that is what the Gospel writers are interested in showing.
Those who will analyze this story, however, will easily notice how foolish was the behaviour of the owner of the vineyard. He sent his servants one after another and, knowing that they were beaten and killed, nevertheless sent his beloved son to the same danger. Although he had full power to act, he did nothing until his son is definitely killed. He is also ignorant of the future. He naively assumes that the wicked servants will respect his son. So can anyone compare this foolish man to God? But that is what the story does. This is why it is clearly admitted in the Pelican New Testament Commentaries, St. Mark. p. 309, that it is unlikely that Jesus told this parable.
The whole idea of God having a son is objectionable to God. God considers it an insult to speak of Him in this way. Therefore, although we love Jesus, honour him, and believe in him, we should not call him ‘Son of God’. And we should not compare God’s plan with the plan of a man so foolish as the owner of the vineyard.
Jesus was a true prophet of God; he was the Messiah; and he spoke the truth. But he never claimed to be God’s son.