“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. ...” (Matthew 21:33-40)

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them in the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (Matthew 21:33-40)

What does this parable mean?

Jesus is speaking of how humans have treated many of God's representatives as they have come to save us.

The landowner

Like the vineyard, God created the physical universe for us to live within temporarily. It is a temporary domain, built with a purpose.

The wall, the winepress and the watchtower

The winepress symbolizes the endeavors of the physical world, while the wall and the watchtower symbolize our inability to escape the physical world without permission - specific permission from the Supreme Being and His representatives.

The farmer tenants

The physical universe might be considered to be governed by a type of a rental agreement, as God expects that someday we will return to Him. In fact, He created the physical universe specifically as a learning facility: Its purpose is to help us grow; and realize that we are not happy without Him. The basic agreement is that He facilitates our learning experience and protects us through the process, while we learn the lessons of love and caring for others.

The owner going away on a journey symbolizes the fact that the Supreme Being has basically given us freedom of choice within the physical world. It is not as though He really goes away - but He leaves the world to us - though we must also suffer the consequences of our activities.

The harvest and collecting his rent

Understanding we are perpetually empty without our relationship with Him is the lesson we should harvest from our physical lifetimes. The realization that God is our Best Friend and our only shelter is the fruit of Jesus' analogy.

Just as the rent in Jesus' story, we return this realization to God as we learn to serve Him with love. Should we misuse the facilities of our physical lifetime, and use them to attempt to maintain our own enjoyment while continuing to reject God, then we would be like the tenants who did not pay the landlord the rent.

To remind us of our need to rebuild our relationship with God and return to Him, God has sent and continues to send many of His loving servants - His representatives - to try to bring us home. So they try to teach us the truth. They are like the servants of the landlord who came to collect the fruit.

They beat and killed the servants

Throughout the history of humanity, so many teachers have come to try to teach us to love God. These include all of the prophets. They include Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Job, Jonah, Zachariah, John the Baptist, Jesus and some of Jesus' disciples.

While many of these mentioned were not necessarily murdered, some were, such as John the Baptist, Jesus and Peter: But there were also many others in between and throughout human history that have been disrespected, and even tortured and/or murdered for their faith in God and their teachings.

The son of the landlord

The sending of the landlord's son is often thought to mean that Jesus was speaking of himself. While this may be true, the analogy was meant to further indicate the core lesson of the story - that humanity has been rejecting God's representatives and His continual outreach to us. As Jesus has taught, we are all children of God. As we have shown with other verses, those considered “sons” of God are his loving servants (υἱός = a follower or dedicated servant):

Jesus confirmed this when he said:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
In this, a "peacemaker" is someone who makes peace with God - a servant of God, in other words. Even Jesus' disciples agreed with this position:
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)
Furthermore, it is more likely that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist as the son of the landlord, because his statements just previous to his speaking this parable were specifically discussing John the Baptist:
"For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him..." (Matthew 21:32)
We should also note that Jesus had yet to be murdered at the time of this discussion. Could he be predicting his own murder? Possibly - but this is not the point.

God keeps sending His servants

The greater point of Jesus' parable is the fact that God keeps sending His servants - or representatives - just as the landlord kept sending his servants, and we keep rejecting them. This is offensive to the Supreme Being just as the murder of the servants and son of the landlord was egregious to the landlord in Jesus' parable.

Jesus expressed this elsewhere as he admonished the sectarian institution for having ignored so many of the teachings of the Prophets. He once said:
"Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:12)
As Jesus spoke this to his own students, it is apparent that he did not accept that he was the last servant of God to be sent to humanity to proclaim the message of love for God.

It also indicates that the path to pleasing God is to give homage to His servants. If the renters of the vineyard had welcomed the landlord's servants and son and treated them with dignity and respect, and paid them the landlord's share, the landlord would have been pleased with them.

We can do the same. We can accept and revere those servants of God who have been sent to earth to deliver God's message:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)