Questions about the Parable of the Evil Husbandmen


The Parable of the Evil Husbandmen of the Vineyard appears in St Matthew's Gospel (21:33-44), and is read on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. It is also found in Mark 12:1­9 and Luke 20:9­16.

Describe the parable. Why was it spoken by Jesus?







The Parable of the Vineyard describes the treatment of the servants of a householder who had created a vineyard, and let it out to husbandman. The meticulous preparation of the vineyard is described, and then three separate incidents in which the householder sent emissaries to the vineyard to collect it's fruits. In two successive incidents, he sent servants to the vineyard, and they were beaten or killed. In the last incident, he sent his son, who was sized by the husbandmen, cast out of the vineyard, and killed.

The parable was presented to condemn the Jews who were soon to fully reject the Messiah, who stood in their midst, and they knew him not, but there is much more hidden within it, as the holy Chrysostom relates:

"Many things doth He intimate by this parable, God's providence, which had been exercised towards them from the first; their murderous disposition from the beginning; that nothing had been omitted of whatever pertained to a heedful care of them; that even when prophets had been slain, He had not turned away from them, but had sent His very Son; that the God both of the New and of the Old Testament was one and the same; that His death should effect great blessings; that they were to endure extreme punishment for the crucifixion, and their crime; the calling of the Gentiles, the casting out of the Jews." (St John Chrysostom)



"There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandman, and went into a far country:" (Matt 21:33)

As in all parables, there is much important symbolism here. In order to understand the inner meaning we must construct a "glossary" of symbols.

  • Who is the Householder?
  • What is the vineyard? There are two answers!
  • What was the expectations of the householder? Describe in spiritual terms.







The householder is God, who is spoken of as a man to show His great love for man, according to Blessed Theophylact.

The vineyard was the Jewish people. With the coming of the Messiah, the church is now the vineyard. Another, equally valid and important interpretation is that the vineyard and the husbandmen is ourselves. We have been provided all necessary things through baptism and the manifold and continual mercies of God, and are responsible to cultivate ourselves. (Bl Theophylact, Commentary on Luke 20:9-16) The Lord gave the Jews, and now us, every good thing, and expected them to bear fruit. The householder expects a good harvest of grapes, and God expects us to live according to the light He has given us.



"There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country" (Mat 21:33)

  • What does the hedge represent?
  • What does the winepress represent?
  • What does the tower represent?
  • Who did the work described, and is this significant? Why?







A hedge protects a vineyard from marauding animals and thieves. This was the function of the Law, which protected the Jewish people from the pollution of idolatry from the Gentiles. Another interpretation the Fathers give is that the hedge represents the angels, who protected and guarded Israel. In any case, the hedge protects those who believe correctly in God, and worship Him in Spirit and truth. It may be likened to the sides of a boat, which protects sailors from the stormy sea. The ark is also a strong symbol of the church.

The winepress, which was used for pressing out the juice from the grapes, is understood to be the altar, which was so essential in Jewish worship and sacrifice and which prefigured, with the blood of sacrificial animals, the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. The altar is no less essential now, as we are fed the "medicine of immortality" (the Holy Eucharist) from it.

The Tower is the temple.

All the preparation of the vineyard was done by the householder. The tenants were responsible for the tending of the vineyard AFTER its initial planting. So it is in the Christian life. God reveals Himself to us by His great mercy, and gives us everything necessary for our salvation. We must appropriate no credit for the things that are given us, because, " For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: {9} Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:8-9) However, after we are vouchsafed the great grace of baptism, we must tend the vineyard, which is to say, fulfill the purpose for which God created us: " For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. " (Eph 2:10)



"There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country" (Mat 21:33)

  • Who are the husbandmen? There are again two answers!
  • What is meant by the householder "going into a far country"?







The first husbandmen are understood to be the Jewish teachers, the Scribes and the Pharisees. This is confirmed by the Evangelist, who reports the anger of these false shepherds after the telling of the parable: "And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. {46} But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet." (Mat 21:45-46) In our age, the vineyard is the church, and the householders are the bishops, and priests and all true believing and acting Christians.

The great mystery of God's love and patience towards man is expressed by householder going into a far country. To unrepentant and sleepy sinners, God appears to be far away, as in a far country, but He is actually being patient with us, and after setting all tings in order for our salvation, waits for our repentance. We must not use the time that God is away from the vineyard in a foolish way, because He who goes away will certainly come back, in the eighth day, and we will be asked to show our fruits. "Occupy till I come." (Luke 19:13)

"Not a change of place, for God, by whom all things are filled, cannot be absent from any place; but He seems to be absent from the vineyard, that he may leave the vine-dressers a freedom of acting." (St Jerome)

"And went into a far country;" that He bore long with them, not always bringing the punishments close upon their sins; for by His going into a far country, He means His great long-suffering." (St John Chrysostom)



"And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it." (Mat 21:34)

The householder ends up sending servants three times to the vineyard. In this first attempt, it is said that "the time of the fruit drew near". This means something very specific. What? Who are the servants?







The prophets are the first and second group of servants. Their entire era was a times when the "fruit drew near", as they preached and prophesied concerning the coming of the Messiah and the redemption of man. Much of their ministry was moral, and not just prophetic. True worship of God is not just knowledge, but life according to that knowledge - that is, moral amendment, and the doing of the commandments. This is the true fruit of the holy prophet's preaching.

"He calls the Prophets servants, who as the Lord's Priests offer the fruits of the people, and the proofs of their obedience in their works. But they showed their wickedness not only in refusing the fruits, but in having indignation against those that come to them, as it follows, And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another." (St John Chrysostom)



"And the husbandman took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. {36} Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did to them likewise." (Matt 21:35-36)

Who are the husbandmen that so shamefully treated the householder's servants? Give at least three REAL-LIFE examples of their activities (things that actually happened). Hint: St Paul's later writings as well as an understanding of Old Testament history will help quite a bit.







The Jewish rulers were responsible many times for the slaying or persecution of the prophets.

  • Isaiah was sawn asunder.
  • Jeremiah was beaten.
  • Elijah was hounded and pursued.
  • Zechariah was killed between the temple and the altar.

"And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: {33} Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, {34} Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. {35} Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: {36} And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: {37} They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; {38} (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." (Heb 11:32-38)



"But last of all he sent to them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. {38} But when the husbandman saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. {39} And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him." (Matt 21:37-39)

"Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him." (Luke 20:13)

  • Who is the son?
  • Why is the householder, Who is God, and therefore knows all things, presented as asking a question, and showing uncertainty (in Luke's gospel)? This question represents a very important freedom God has granted man.
  • What is the meaning of him being cast out of the vineyard before being killed? This is a prophecy. Explain.







Of course, the son is the only begotten Son of God, the God-man Jesus Christ. In this parable, the Lord prophesied His death and something about the manner of it, by showing that the husbandmen slew the Son outside of the vineyard. Jesus Christ was crucified outside the city gates of Jerusalem.

The Householder's question and apparent doubt is meant to show that God gives man free will, and His foreknowledge of events is not the cause of man's disobedience. (Bl. Theophylact, Commentary of Luke 20:9-16). This is a construct often used in Scripture.



"When the lord therefore of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those husbandmen? {41} They said to him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard to other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons." (Matt 21:40-41)

  • When was this prophesy fulfilled in a literal sense, and how?
  • What are the fruits Jesus is talking about? Personalize!







"Christ's prophecy concerning the punishment of the evil husbandmen and the transfer of the vineyard to others was fulfilled exactly thirty­five years after Jesus uttered this parable. The Roman commander, Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and all of Palestine, and the Jews where dispersed throughout the whole world." (Fr Victor Patapov)

"And "He sent His servants," that is, the prophets, "to receive the fruit;" that is, their obedience, the proof of it by their works." (St John Chrysostom)

"... To every one of the faithful is let out a vineyard to cultivate, in that the mystery of baptism is entrusted to him to work out. One servant is sent a second and a third, when the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets are read. But the servant who is sent is said to be treated despitefully or beaten, when the word heard is despised or blasphemed. The heir who is sent that man kills as far as he can, who by sin tramples under foot the Son of God. The wicked husbandmen being destroyed, the vineyard is given to another, when with the gift of grace, which the proud man spurned, the humble are enriched." (Blessed Bede)



"Jesus said to them, Did you never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?" (Matt 21:42)

This is read VERY OFTEN in church? When? What does it mean? Who are the builders? What (Who) is the stone? Speculate why we read this verse so often.







The Hymn called "God is the Lord" is chanted and sung alternately by the Deacon and choir in most matins services, immediately after the Great Litany, very near the beginning of the service. It included the verse Christ quotes about himself, above.

A corner stone is the strongest stone in a building, and brings together two walls. These are understood by the church to be the Jews and the Gentiles, who were all brought together by Jesus Christ, the chief corner stone. Those builders who rejected this stone are the false teaching scribes and Pharisees, and all false teachers, to this day.

"Then that they might learn that not only the nature of justice requires these things, but even from the beginning the grace of the Spirit had foretold them, and God had so decreed, He both added a prophecy, and reproves them in a way to put them to shame, saying, "Did ye never read, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes;" by all things showing, that they should be cast out for unbelief, and the Gentiles brought in. This He darkly intimated by the Canaanitish woman also; this again by the ass, and by the centurion, and by many other parables; this also now. Wherefore He added too, "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes," declaring beforehand that the believing Gentiles, and as many of the Jews as should also themselves believe, shall be one, although the difference between them had been so great before." (St John Chrysostom)



"And whoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder." (Matt 21:44)

A terrible, and enigmatic promise! Herein lies altogether four prophecies of destruction. Two address the Jews directly, and among these, one was a prophecy that was soon fulfilled for all to see. Two address every man in a spiritual way, and only one of these "destructions" leads to eternal life. Explain.







The Lord prophesied the terrible fall of the Jews who would deny Him, by first showing the "destruction of their souls which they suffered when they took offense at Christ, for 'whosoever shall fall on that stone shall be broken'" (Bl. Theophylact, Commentary on Luke 20:16-19), and the eventual razing of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish people abroad, by adding, " but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Ibid.)

These words also apply to every man who encounters Christ. The second part of the prophesy is indeed terrible for all, as it indicates the total loss of a soul who refuses to believe in Christ, but the first part actually indicates the process of the redemption of sinners.

"Whoever sins, yet believes in Him, falls indeed upon a stone and is broken, yet is not altogether crushed, but is preserved to salvation through endurance. But on whomsoever it shall fall, that is, whomsoever this stone shall itself assault, and whosoever shall utterly deny Christ, it shall so crush him, that not a bone of him shall be left in which a drop of water could be taken up." (St Jerome)


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