The situation continues from the previous lesson. Jesus is dealing with Jewish officials in the Temple grounds and they have questioned His authority. He told them it was the same authority as John the Baptist. He gave them the parable about a vineyard owner and his two sons. The meaning was obvious to them. Here Jesus offers another parable with similar symbols they understood quite well.
This time the vineyard owner leased his property to someone while he went off to a distant land. From this far country he sent servants to collect his share of the harvest. They beat one, murdered another and stoned a third. Every servant the owner sent was treated in a similar fashion. The tenants acted like they owned the vineyard and refused to honor their terms of lease. Finally the owner sent his son, thinking they would surely treat him as they would the owner himself.
Perhaps that was true, but not in the sense the owner had in mind. They realized this was their chance to seize the son’s inheritance. They grabbed the heir, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Jesus asked these officials what they imagined the owner would do when he finally returned himself. Obviously, he would take vengeance on the tenants and find someone else to manage the vineyard more honestly.
Jesus then quotes Psalm 118:22-23 regarding the stone that the builders felt wasn’t solid enough for their work. Yet this same stone God chose as the very founding cornerstone for His building. This refers to the practice of building on sloped ground, where a massive quarried stone is set as the base corner, and all the other foundation stones rested against this to prevent shifting on the slope. Obviously this cornerstone had to be massively heavy and without any cracks. This passage was long recognized as a reference to the Messiah, but the rabbinical scholars never imagined themselves as the builders who would reject Him.
But that was obviously what Jesus was saying. He was the Messiah and they had already rejected Him. Like the vineyard tenants in the parable, they were going to deny Him His inheritance and kill Him, but the Father would still make Him the cornerstone of the Kingdom He was building. They would be cast out and destroyed, and the vineyard would be turned over to those who were faithful to God’s intentions, a new nation that would bear the fruit God had demanded long ago.
Jesus noted that it’s one thing to wander along through life with no clue where you are going, and stumble over this cornerstone of the Kingdom. You’ll fall, be broken, but you can be remade into something God can use. But those who spitefully resist God’s truth are willfully pulling that stone down upon their own heads — it will pulverize them, never to rise again.
Yes, they knew He was talking about them as the ones who were courting God’s wrath, and so did the crowd gathered around them. But the officials would not dare to arrest Him, because it would cause a riot. This was a much larger group than usual, including a great many visitors from out of town.