The parable of the tenants is one I don't remember hearing much as a kid. Maybe that is due to the presence of brutal murder as part and parcel of the story and our general aversion to exposing young children to sex and violence if we can avoid them. As an adult, this parable has usually been explained in the most obvious application, and that having to do with Israel rejecting Jesus, the Son of God. The fallout of that rejection of course, is the taking of the gospel to Gentiles.
So far, so good I suppose. Certainly that is one of the main purposes of the parable. The parable though, doesn't just appear in the text by itself. Rather, it comes as part of a story itself. In this case, Jesus' jousting with the Pharisees. I think it is this story from which we can best use this parable for the church. There are two often left unnoticed statements in the larger story which may have more to say to modern disciples than the actual parable.
The first appears to be the results of rejecting Jesus and this often stated as taking away of the kingdom and giving it to others. But that isn't the whole impact of this aspect of the story. The people who receive the kingdom do not receive it because they are not-Jews, but because they bear fruit. This gives us insight into what God has been after and which Israel was not seeing. The reason the kingdom is taken from Israel is not because they have killed the Son; indeed at this point they have not. The reason is because Israel has not born fruit. They will end up killing the Son but this is because they have neglected the things of the kingdom for some time. In response, the kingdom is made available to those who will produce fruit.
The second aspect, perhaps more often not mentioned is that the Pharisees were honest. Whoa! How can we get that from the story? They have started plotting to kill Jesus but are too afraid to make their plans known. Honest? How is their behavior honest? Simply, they acknowledge that Jesus is talking about them. This is the first step in fixing what needs to be fixed; it is imperative that we understand the message of God is talking to and about us. How many of us read Scripture and simply glide over the parts about "those bad people" without reflecting whether we might be the bad people? Do we read Scripture to let it shine a light into our lives where perhaps there is some shadow, some place we have not inspected, some place that has remained hidden from ourselves?
The question that comes to us is the same faced by the Pharisees. When we realize Jesus is talking about us; when we inspect ourselves in light of the Scripture and find we have been avoiding addressing some fault, or even excusing it, what do we do? What do you do?
It is a somewhat disturbing thought that the Pharisees may have been more honest than we often are. Are we challenged by that possibility to respond more appropriately than the Pharisees? Are we willing to grapple with our own imperfections and failures?
Are you as honest as the Pharisees?