Lectionary Reflection—08 October 2017

“Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

37“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they’ll respect my son.’

38“But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

40“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he’ll do to those farmers?”

41The religious leaders replied, “He’ll put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

42Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone that the builders rejected
   has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing,
   and it’s wonderful to see.’b

43I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.c

45When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.

This is one of those stories that causes significant problems for some people. They don’t like the idea of God punishing people like the religious leaders described. And I get that. But that’s the way the people in the Bible viewed things. As I’ve said before,

“When things happened [in the Bible] that we might call ‘natural disasters,’ ancient peoples would see it as God’s judgment upon a people. Likewise, today we may view the birth of a child as a biological thing, but the people of the Bible saw it as a ‘miracle’ and a ‘gift’ from God. To them, all things—good or bad—came from God.”d

In the story Jesus tells above (paralleled in Mark 12 and Luke 20), we have just that sort of thing taking place. The story is likely based on Isaiah 5.1-7. One of the reasons the religions leaders may have wanted to arrest Jesus was due to their familiarity with the passage. In Isaiah, we’re told that the “nation of Israel” is Yahweh’s vineyard (verse 7). And while Yahweh expected to find “justice” and “righteousness,” “oppression” and “violence” were found instead. Because of this, Yahweh told Israel—

Now let me tell you
   what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
   and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
   and let the animals trample it.
6I will make it a wild place
   where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
   a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
   to drop no rain on it.

It’s clear then, from Isaiah’s perspective, that Yahweh would be the one bringing the calamities upon Israel.

Again, I believe this is where Jesus gets the basis for his story but with a couple of subtle (or not so subtle) twists. The “owner” in both passages is Yahweh. The “vineyard” in Jesus’ story isn’t the nation of Israel but God’s Realm. And in Jesus’ story, the tenant farmers aren’t just the people of Israel but her leaders specifically. In another place, Jesus told them, “…You (i.e., the religious leaders) will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation” (Matthew 23.35-36; emphasis added).

What Jesus was pointing out in his telling of the Isaiah story is that Israel was more than just Yahweh’s vineyard—they were the place where God’s Realm was supposed to manifest. That is, Israel was the place where the world could see what creation was supposed to look like, what God’s Realm manifested in creation was supposed to be. Jesus is saying that Israel as a whole, but especially her leaders, had failed in their vocation. Not only had they failed, they had taken on the characteristics of the falseness of the world around them. And because of that and the way they’ve treated God’s servants, they would be judged.

As you may have guessed, I see this story as pertaining to the then coming war between the Jews and Romans. As the passage indicates, the religious leaders understood this, too.

While I realize the war between the Jews and Romee is something I tend to spend a lot of time writing about, I have good reasons. Recently a person indicated that the “beginning of the end” would take place on Saturday, 23 September 2017. I won’t mention his name or link to his story or predictions, but he’s just another person in a long list of people who’s misunderstood the meaning of the “last days.” And this is such a bad mark upon the church.f All of these false predictions lead to false hopes and false expectations.



My wife recently sent me a link to a TED talk from Casey Gerald titled, “The Gospel of Doubt.” In the video, Casey talks about just turning twelve and, on 31 December 1999, he was with his Grandmother and so many other people in their local church waiting on Jesus to return. As midnight approached, the congregation went down to the altar to pray. As time ticked on, their prayers grew louder and louder. They all wanted to be found praying when Jesus came back at the start of the new millennium.

But Jesus didn’t come back.

Casey talks about how that affected him and how upset he was for the people around him, even at such a young age. He talks about how the elderly had waited their entire lives for that moment, of how they’d been hoodwinked into believing a lie, and how their hopes were dashed. He talks about how they continued to believe anyway and how that upset him.

And that’s just the problem. When we don’t let the Bible tell the story it’s trying to tell, we’ll come up with all kinds of theories which can leave people’s lives in shambles. And what do we do when we’ve been duped? Some of us keep going. But some of us lose hope. And still some of us lose faith.

And let’s not try and justify these false predictions by saying things like, “They’re only human,” or whatever. The Old Testament had a very clear path for false prophets (Deuteronomy 13.1-5; 18.17ff). While some people may be innocent in this, others clearly aren’t. There are numerous books written on this subject. And after an author’s predictions fail, what happens? Do people demand their money back? Do they demand the author apologize or repent? No. Instead the author updates the book! And the same people continue to buy their latest and updated version of their nonsense!

Also, let’s not take Jesus’ words out of context by saying that “No one knows the day or hour” (Matthew 24.36). As I’ve shown in my series on New Testament Eschatology, this passage has to do with the then unknown time of when the Temple would fall and not about a supposed “rapture” or “end of the world” (see here and here). Of course it was unknown to them but it’s known to us! As I showed in that series, Jesus was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation of the Second Temple (the temple that was standing in his time). In the story above (and in Matthew 23), Jesus tells his contemporaries why the judgment of God was coming upon Israel. And let’s make no mistake here, Jesus believed the coming war was God’s judgment. We may not like to think about it like that but that’s the way the prophets understood those types of things. And Jesus was, at the very least, a prophet of Yahweh sent to Israel.

Replacing the eschatology of the New Testament with a fanciful and, at times, absurd eschatology of our own ridiculous predictions hurts people. To misquote Paul, “Don’t use your foolish eschatology to destroy the faith of people for whom Christ died” (Romans 14.15, 20). We make a mockery of the faith with all of these silly conjectures and predictions. We need to be honest with the texts. As far as we can, we must set aside our own preconceived ideas and theories and look, really look, at what the text is saying. We may not like where they take us but we need to be honest with them, especially if we’re in the position of teaching or preaching to others. And we, as readers and listens and parishioners, need to hold the writers and speakers accountable.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

~~~

  1. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
  2. This verse is not included in some early manuscripts. Compare Luke 20:18.
  3. See note 1 here.
  4. The First Jewish/Roman War (sometimes called the Great Revolt) broke out in 66 CE and had two significant “end” dates. The first date was three and a half years later (see Daniel 9.27; Revelation 12.5-6; 13.5ff; cf. Matthew 24.15-22) when the Temple was destroyed in the summer of 70 CE. The second date was after another three and a half years (73 CE) at the battle of Masada. It’s to the first date—70 CE and the destruction of the Temple—to which the eschatology of the New Testament speaks.
  5. Some people would claim it’s one of several bad marks against the church and not the worst.

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