Josephus in his Life relates the following account of one Varus, an administrator under Agrippa. Phillip, a son of one of King Agrippa’s lieutenants, was fighting around Jerusalem where he was nearly killed. Having escaped to Gamala, he sent Agrippa a letter through Varus, where I will pick up the account:
The receipt of Phillip’s communication, acquainting him of his escape, caused Varus great vexation, as he supposed that, now that Phillip had arrived, their majesties would have no further use for his own services. He accordingly brought the bearer of the letter before the people and accused him of forging it; he added that he had mendaciously reported that Phillip was fighting against the Romans with the Jews in Jerusalem, and then put the man to death. Phillip, at a loss to explain the failure of his freedman to return, dispatched a second with further letters and to bring him word what had happened to cause the delay of his first courier. He, too, on his arrival was slain by Varus on some groundless accusation. For Varus had been led to entertain great expectations by the Syrians of Caesarea, who asserted that Agrippa, on the indictment of the Jews, would be put to death by the Romans, and that he, as of royal lineage, would succeed to the throne…Inflated with these lofty ambitions Varus withheld the letters and contrived to prevent their perusal by the king; guards being posted at all the exits from the town, so that none should escape and report his proceedings to him (Life, 50-53; Translated by H. St. J. Thackeray)
Reading this brought to mind the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Matthew 21:22-46:
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. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized the 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 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 (TNIV).
The similarities of the two passages is striking, especially the thought in both that such machinations would eventually lead to power. While some parables are so true-to-life as to seem more like a true account than a story, other parables tend in the opposite direction, of being absurd enough to defy reality. I always classified the parable of the Wicked Tenants as the latter. The idea that any rational person would put such a plot into action with the thought of gaining ownership of a vineyard seems absurd. However, after reading the above account from Josephus, I rethought my classification of the parable.