Jesus’ Response and Absentee Landlords

19 Apr

Judgment - 3An envoy from the Sanhedrin sought to lay a trap for Jesus by questioning his authority to do those things he had been doing, ever since the day he had entered Jerusalem, while riding on the colt of a donkey, amid the praise of the people, as though they were welcoming their King. Since the Jewish authorities refused to answer Jesus’ counter question, he responded by telling them he wouldn’t reply to theirs (Luke 20:8). Nevertheless, in reality he did answer them in a thinly veiled parable that immediately followed their confrontation.

Immediately, Jesus turned to the people and taught them a parable (Luke 20:9), but, remember, the same representatives of the Sanhedrin were still present and listened also (Luke 20:19) The man in the parable who planted the vineyard points to God who ‘planted’ Israel among the nations (Luke 20:9). The parable tells us that God is the true owner of the vineyard, but he is an ‘absentee landlord’ who placed his vineyard under the care of men, called husbandmen. He is patient with the husbandmen, although they refused to give him the fruit they were obligated to return to him under contract. The lord of the vineyard sent messenger after messenger to them, but they all returned empty handed. Therefore, the lord of the vineyard decided to send his beloved son, believing the husbandmen would honor him (Luke 20:13).

The husbandmen in the parable point to the Jewish leaders (Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7), especially to the sort that questioned Jesus in Luke 20:1-2, 19. Under contract (viz. the Law of Moses) the husbandmen were required to return to the lord of the vineyard (God in the context of the parable) at least a large portion of the fruit of the vineyard (Luke 20:10). However when the owner of the vineyard sought what was his under contract, he sent messengers (the prophets of the Old Testament in the context of the parable) to the husbandmen, telling them they needed to pay him what he required, they treated the messengers cruelly and refused to return any of the fruit of the vineyard (Luke 20:10-12).

What the parable tells us about men, who are in the state of rebellion against God, is that they refuse to be subject to law (cf. Romans 8:7), and they will seek to find ways to extricate themselves from their obligations to its demands. Finally, the lord of the vineyard sent his beloved son, hoping his servants would honor him (Luke 20:13).In the parable, the beloved son, represents Jesus, the beloved Son of God.

Nevertheless, according to Luke 20:14-15, the husbandmen decided to kill the son of the lord of the vineyard in order to seize the vineyard for themselves. This seems odd and difficult to believe its possibility, except for how the Babylonian Talmud seems to treat absentee landlords during the first century AD. According to some scholars many Jewish lands were owned and operated by absentee landlords during Jesus’ days, and this created a great deal of ill-will among the Jews.[1] So, laws were made in hope to seize those lands by local Jews, and this is reflected in the Talmud, though written years later:

THEIR PERIOD OF HAZAKAH IS THREE YEARS FROM DAY TO DAY. R. Abba said: If [the claimant of a piece of land] helps [the man In possession] to lift a basket of produce on to his shoulders, this at once creates a presumption [that the land belongs to the latter]. R. Zebid said: If, however, he pleads, ‘I have installed him [as a metayer[2]] with a right to the produce [but not the ownership of the land],’ his plea is accepted. This too is only the case if the plea is made within three years [of the alleged transfer], but not later. Said R. Ashi to R. Kahana: If he had made him a metayer [for more than three years], what was he to do? He said: He should have lodged a protest within three years. For, were you not to say so, then what about the so-called ‘mortgage of Sura’ containing the stipulation, ‘On the termination of these [X] years this land shall be given up without payment.’ Now suppose the mortgagee suppresses the mortgage bond and asserts that he has bought the land; are we indeed to say that his plea is to be accepted? Would the Rabbis make a regulation which would expose the mortgager to unfair loss? But the fact is that he can protect himself by lodging a protest within three years; and so in this case also he can protect himself by lodging a protest within three years. [Babylonian Talmud; Baba Bathra 35b] (emphasis mine)

So, we see by this law, which was in force during the time of Jesus, the husbandmen treated the lord of the vineyard (i.e. the Jewish authorities treated God) as an absentee landlord from whom they wished to seize legal authority over his possession, and, according to the jurisprudence of the day, they viewed such an act as correct and fair.


[1] See the Gospel of Luke by the Bible Professor; page 139, and Luke – by William Barclay; page 151.

[2] According to:, metayer means: a person who works the land using tools, seed, etc., furnished by the landlord and who receives a share of the harvest in compensation.

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Posted by on April 19, 2018 in Gospel of Luke


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