Parables can be tricky things…after all, the whole point was to hide the truth somewhat within story, so it can be a challenge to locate and communicate the truth to kids of today. Yet Christ’s stories are timeless. Not only were they relevant to the people of first century Jerusalem; they have modern-day extrapolations and explanations, if we are willing to examine closely. In this lesson, students will be introduced to the parable of the tenants. It is not as oft-told or well-known as the Good Samaritan or Prodigal Son, but has a powerful message reminding us of God’s might and control.
Lesson Objective and Observation: Students will hear and respond to the parable of the tenants. They will hear the original parable by Jesus with some modern explanations, and they will discuss how Christ is the main point of the whole Bible. Students will understand the importance of following God’s instructions and listening for His voice, even in unexpected ways.
Passage: Matthew 21:33-46 (also found in Mark 12:1-12 and Luke 20:1-19)
Target Audience: K-6th Grade (adaptable)
Materials Needed: Comic strip paper template; grapes (and/or grape juice); rocks; pictures; Bibles
Lesson Opening: Today’s lesson is going to be told a little bit differently, and will have an element of story to it.
-For starters, display several items that will be parts of the story. Show students pictures of Moses, Elijah (or other prophets), and Jesus; also show some grapes and/or leaves, rocks or stones, and a check or dollar. Ask them what all of these things have in common…they are all part of today’s story!
-Explain that the story we are talking about is a parable from Jesus. What is a parable, again? Remind students that a parable is a special story that tells a lesson. What kinds of stories do we like to hear or read? The one we are hearing today is sort of strange…but we will explain it and talk about why it is important.
Hand each student a template with several comic strip squares. In the center of the table, place several colored pencils, markers, etc…explain that as you tell the story, students will have opportunity to draw illustrations that go along with what is read. You will be pausing to let them catch up, but encourage them to draw something that will remind them of parts of the story…if desired, you can also do a picture (or maybe use a large board or paper) to demonstrate.
“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 moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. -Matthew 21:33-34
Pause here to describe the action and allow the first panel of illustration. Jesus is telling a story. He starts out with a guy who planted a vineyard, which is basically a grape farm. So he planted a grape farm, and then he hired some people to work it for him. Now, the deal back then was that if someone was working another person’s farm, they would get to live there and harvest the crops, but some of the harvest had to go back to the actual owner as a sort of rent. Well, the harvest came in, and it was time to pay up…so the owner’s servants went to collect his due. But….
“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. -Matthew 21:35-37
(pause here; kids should be on the second comic square, at least) So instead of forking over the grapes, these guys beat, stoned, and even killed the guys who came to collect. Now, think for a minute…who has a library card? When you don’t turn in books to the library, you get fines. Eventually, you can’t check out any more books if you owe too much money. What about houses…do you know what happens if you don’t pay rent? Eventually, you get kicked out of your home. It isn’t fun! All that these renters had to do was give the owner his share of the grapes. But they refused. So the owner decided to send his own son, thinking that would get their attention and force them to listen. Predict: what do you think is going to happen??
“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.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (38-39)
Whoa. That is not a happy ending…what now? Jesus asked His listeners the same thing:
“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” (40-41).
So, the time is up. The renters did not listen to the first several people who tried to get their attention, and they killed the owner’s son. The farm is going to go to a more worthy customer. But wait…what does all of this mean, anyway??? Why would Jesus tell such a tale?
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’[h]?
43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”[i]
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. (42-46)
(note: students may have varied comic strips. Invite them to share drawings if desired)
Have students draw three more pictures near the end: one with Moses, one with Elijah (or Isaiah or John the Baptist or whoever), and one with Jesus. Now, go through and explain a little more about this parable. Allow children to brainstorm potential meanings, and then describe…explain that the priests and bigwigs of the church in Jesus day had been criticizing Him for a lot of silly things. This story was showing how people throughout history had failed to listen to God. First, God gave His people the ten commandments, and led them through the promised land with Moses. But they still whined and complained and messed up. God sent judges and kings, but the people still fell back into disobedience. God sent prophets, but they were ignored also. Finally, God sent His son, Jesus….and what did the leaders do to Him? Well, they killed Him, just like the tenants in the story. But look at that last verse. When the priests heard the story, did they repent and listen? No! They just got madder, because they knew it was referring to them.
Okay, so what’s the point? Why is a story like this in the Bible? What does it mean for us? Well, we need to pay attention so that we don’t make the same mistake. Now is the time to live out our faith, listening to God and paying attention to His word. When we live our lives to give back to Him and demonstrate gratitude for all He has given, that shows we honor Him. We can do this joyfully, knowing that our sins are forgiven and Heaven is ours through Christ. We don’t have to earn it, but we do still have to live our lives for God in order to show others the beauty of God’s coming kingdom. The world rejected Jesus, but He became the cornerstone of the church and the kingdom. Our job now is to keep our eyes and ears open. The harvest is ready…let’s be fruitful!
Depending on time, students can embellish their comic strips, or do some “grape art” such as…
- Drawing vines, and using finger prints as little grapes
- Decorate a grape shaped paper with bubble wrap paint “grapes”
- Use pipe cleaners and pom poms as grapes
- Decorate a “corner stone” rock
Closing questions: wrap things up with a few questions to evaluate how students have soaked in the lesson…Ask probing questions to see what kids remember. Such as….
- Why did Jesus tell this story?
- Who did the farm owner represent in this parable?
- How do we know right from wrong in our lives?
- What will happen if we don’t listen to Jesus?
Close with prayer and ask the Lord to help us listen and obey His word.