If a three-year-old were playing with a favorite toy and someone took it from her and hid it, the child would likely cry in frustration or search for the toy. But if the child were six months old or younger, she would generally exhibit little response. At such an age, children have not yet developed what is called “object permanence,” the recognition that objects continue to exist even when they cannot see them. Things that are out of sight are out of mind.
In the Parable of the Tenants, Jesus suggests that the Jewish leaders of His day acted as though they failed to recognize God’s permanence. The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of Israel as a vineyard planted and cared for by God (see Ps. 80:7–15 and Isa. 5:1–7). In the words of the psalm, our all-powerful God “transplanted a vine from Egypt . . . [and] drove out the nations and planted it” (Ps. 80:8). Small, weak, and enslaved, Israel was incapable of such a feat.
Yet when God’s work of nurturing the vineyard was less visible, Israel’s leaders behaved as if it belonged to them and not God. With God out of their sight, they put God’s ownership out of their minds. And when God sent servants in the form of prophets, they rejected God’s claim, beating, stoning, and killing God’s messengers (vv. 34–36).
Describing the vineyard owner’s son who was sent to these renegade farmers, Jesus was of course speaking of Himself. By putting Him to death, the leaders would attempt finally to take over God’s ownership entirely.
But to believe that they might establish their ownership in such a way only reveals how limited their imagination and understanding of God really was. The all-powerful God who brought Israel out of Egypt cannot be defeated, not even by death.
The temptation to put God out of mind is powerful. Even if we recognize God’s claim in one part of our lives, we may neglect it in others. Are there aspects of your life in which you are tempted to assert control or assume ownership instead of the Lord? How might you offer God the fruit of those parts of your life as well?