9 And He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time.
10 “At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.
11 “And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed.
12 “And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out.
13 “The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’
14 “But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.’
15 “So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them?
16 “He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!”
17 But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone’?
18 “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” Luke 20:9-18 (NASB95)
Jesus goes to the parable format to make a key point to set the stage for the days ahead. When you read this story about the owner of a vineyard leaving it to others for tending in his absence, then requesting it’s produce by proxy, we tend to identify emotionally with the owner who sees his three servants return to him beaten and empty handed, and then learns his beloved son whom his sent in his place was violently killed.
The “may it never be” response of the people would seem to me to address the shocking murder of his beloved son, not the intention of the owner to kill the growers, seize the vineyard, and give it to others. Or perhaps they began to fear for the fate of their wonderful teacher. Perhaps they realized Jesus was indeed the son of God and would soon be killed at the hands of these contemptuous men who would stop at nothing. This realization would truly warrant a “may it never be!”
Or perhaps the rank and file witnessed Jesus fixing his glare on the chief priests, scribes and elders when he offered his analogy of the chief cornerstone (quoting Psalm 118:22), and assumed, as they did correctly, he was talking directly to these leaders. Perhaps these men shouted out “may it never be” in somewhat of a classic courtroom denial of a damning indictment against them!
Whatever the case, Jesus knew the hearts and minds of his antagonists, what they were truly capable of—murder—and that they, like the vineyard’s tenants, were scheming to kill him—or to have him killed—the first chance they got.
The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them. So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor. Luke 20:19-20
As an aside, as Christians the phrase “may it never be” should be be frequently uttered as a resolution against all forms of sin. As Jesus was resolved to complete his mission to save us, we too should be committed to a holy life.
May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Romans 6:2