The religious community of Jesus’ day firmly believed they were superior to those around them. They despised the Romans. They hated most of their neighboring peoples. There was even much disagreement among the individual tribes. Corruption was rampant. Herod was a wretch of a man, selfish, and depraved. He had very little real authority, but was left in place by Rome to help keep the people from rebelling giving them a peaceful occupation of the land.
Things weren’t much better in the temple where people were routinely being cheated by the moneychangers with the priests fully in on it.
Here comes Jesus. For three years He has been causing a stir. At times, near riots would break out when He showed up as people tried to get close to Him and hear what He was teaching or receive a healing. The religious leaders were regularly trying to bring Him down because He broke through their facades. He spoke to everyone. He was not a respecter of persons. He had compassion and healed those the leaders had declared cursed. Jesus was a radical. He threatened the status quo. He spoke truth. He exposed injustice and sin. He challenged the heart behind the actions.
In this parable we see Him directly calling out the religious leaders and elite. He flat out stated that the Kingdom would be taken from them and given to someone deserving. But He led the people there first.
He brought them to the point and let them declare the reality and the outcome. Look at verse 40 (http://bible.us/matt21.40.niv84). With the way He told the story without giving the conclusion, He left the hearers to form the conclusion and they did.
The leaders who were there were quite unhappy with it. It was obvious that He was speaking about them. It was obvious that He was claiming they were not being true to God even though they appeared more holy than everyone else by their actions.
I can imagine that when those around Jesus answered His question, there were some that looked at the religious leaders who were there. Jesus likely let the words hang for a few moments. Then He brought it home made the statement that solidified it when He quoted Psalm 118:22-23. He was making the statement that He and His teachings was the rejected stone. That those who reject Him would be crushed and broken as a result.
They saw this as blasphemy, more for what it said about them then whether or not it was harmful to the truth of God. The real sin of the Pharisees and other religious leaders was not their zeal for the law, it was not legalism, it wasn’t even trying to trap Jesus in His words. Their root sin was selfishness. They loved their power. They relished their status. And, they could not stand being exposed. That is what Jesus did. He showed their heart. He revealed their motives. That is why they plotted to kill Him.
We see the key for us today in verse 43 when He stated, “the kingdom of God will be … given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
That is God’s expectation of us: produce fruit. That doesn’t mean we must all have apple trees and grapes growing in our yards. It means we live lives that produce change in others and outcomes that glorify God and honor His name. It means we follow His path and live out His purpose for us. He is the owner, after all.