Weekly Gospel Reflection - 02 October 2011
Matthew 21:33-43, 44-46* (CEB): “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. When it was time for harvest, he sent his servants to the tenant farmers to collect his fruit. But the tenant farmers grabbed his servants. They beat some of them, and some of them they killed. Some of them they stoned to death.
“Again he sent other servants, more than the first group. They treated them in the same way. “Finally he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
“But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come on, let’s kill him and we’ll have his inheritance.’ They grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
“When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenant farmers?”
They said, “He will totally destroy those wicked farmers and rent the vineyard to other tenant farmers who will give him the fruit when it’s ready.”
Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the scriptures, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes? Therefore, I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and will be given to a people who produce its fruit. [Whoever falls on this stone will be crushed. And the stone will crush the person it falls on.”
Now when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard the parable, they knew Jesus was talking about them. They were trying to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.]*
This is one of those stories that some people just don’t get. This story Jesus tells is a continuation of his confrontation with the ‘Jewish opposition’ (see John’s Gospel in the CEB). It’s a challenge between two opposing world views. We saw this most clearly with the ‘cleansing’ of the Temple, Christ healing people there, and the comments he made about it. The symbolism there is, simply, there in only room for one temple in God’s realm and Christ is it.
The next day the ‘Jewish opposition’ confronted Jesus and demanded to know on what authority he did all of that. Jesus then tells some stories to make his point against them. To draw the line in the sand, if you will. This story today is the second one.
Now, I stated all of that to set the proper context. This story Jesus tells is not about the end of the world, as some people erroneously claim. Nor is it about Judaism being a failed religion, either. No, these stories are about the religious opposition of Jesus day. If they continued in their pursuit of wanting to do things their way, the whole nation would suffer, not in the next life, but in this life. This is evident by the rest of the chapter that I added. Notice that the ‘chief priests and the Pharisees...knew Jesus was talking about them’. That is, they were the tenant farmers in today’s story. The servants were the prophets that had come before Jesus and Jesus himself was the son of the owner, which was God. The story is about a power struggle between people who were entrusted with power and how it corrupted them to the point that they felt entitled to the owners property to use it how they saw fit. Jesus’ point was that, since they were no longer Some see the fulfillment of Christ’s warning in the fall of Jerusalem in 70CE.
While this story is about the Jewish opposition, we can certainly see it played out in our own day. Whether it’s Wall Street or ecology, some (most) of us have gotten to the place where we feel entitled to do as we see fit with our places of power. Many people who know that I’m a vegetarian feel that eating meat is an entitlement. ‘That why God put animals here,’ is the usual response. They quickly quote proof texts to support their view and point to the fact that humanity was given ‘dominion’ over creation (and ‘dominion’ is interpreted as domination to the point of exploitation). But it’s just that mentality that seemed to permeate the ‘Jewish opposition’.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist confronts this ‘entitlement’ mentality. Speaking to the ‘Jewish opposition’, he said, ‘And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones’ (Matthew 3.9 CEB). I see this a lot with Christians. But Jesus warning is here that God could just as easily use another group of people to be God’s voice, hands, feet, even Godself in the world. Just because one thinks they have crossed all the ‘T’s’ and dotted all of the ‘I’s’ doesn’t mean a hill of beans if one is not serving others. The ‘Jewish opposition’ could just as easily repented (‘changed their hearts and minds’ and the CEB would put it) and continued on with the Realm of God. But they let greed and self take the place of loving God, neighbor, and enemy. Let’s make sure that we who claim Christ don’t fall in the same ditch.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC