This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 29, 2017.
The lectionary seemingly assigns us two moments in Matthew this week. In the first, Pharisees test Jesus’ legal knowledge, prompting him to offer his infamous articulation of the greatest commandment. In the second, Jesus turns the tables, quizzing his inquisitors about the Messiah, ultimately leaving them speechless. The temptation here is to pick a passage like we pick our news outlets, zeroing in on one (likely the first) to the complete exclusion of the other. However, we’d do well to receive the assignment as given and wrestle with why the lectionary lists these moments as the biblical author does, as one.
The second half of this passage gives weight to the first in a few notable ways. First, Jesus comes closer to revealing his identity here than in any of the previous chapters in Matthew. Son of David was a common messianic reference, and if you turn back a page, you’ll see this is the title the crowds he encountered on the way into Jerusalem and the children in the temple courts have already given him. In this light, the question itself implies his Messianic identity. Secondly, the fact that Jesus answers their question impressively and they are dumbstruck by his speaks both to Jesus’ credibility and authority as a teacher. Soon these elders and teachers of the law will have him arrested and put him on trial. Matthew wants us to witness this before we get to that. The higher credibility and authority of Jesus in comparison to other teachers of the law is established here. Finally, the establishment of Jesus as the teacher of highest authority combined with the implication of his messiahship calls the reader back to his response regarding the greatest commandment, because it provides us with an important interpretive resource for life, scripture and the messiahship of Jesus.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 22, 2017.
This passage marks the beginning of a series of litmus tests meant not to test Jesus’ alkalinity or acidity but his legitimacy as a leader, or lack thereof. The question about paying taxes to Rome is the first of three such litmus testing questions. The second is the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection (they didn’t even believe in the resurrection), and the third is the Pharisees question about the greatest commandment, which he answers masterfully and then follows with a fourth question of his own. We’ll get to that next week. For now, it’s important to read this as the beginning of a series of Matthean moments where we’re meant to see what Jesus is made of when confronted by and compared to the respected Jewish authorities who would later be responsible for his arrest and trial.
Jesus’ inquisitors indicate Jesus’ essence before even giving him a chance to answer the first question. “Teacher,” they said. “We know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others because you pay no attention to who they are. (vs. 16) The disciples of the Pharisees (not the Pharisees – they first sent students to do their dirty work) do not believe Jesus is actually a person of integrity. This questioning is actually meant to reveal that and discredit him. Ironically, however, these inquisitors have both revealed their intent and set us up to observe the true integrity on display. What happens when someone confronts a person of the highest integrity with malicious intent? In this case, the person of integrity confronts them right back.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 15, 2017.
It’s one thing to ask why Jesus had to die. It’s another thing to ask why they killed Jesus. If you want to get a strong sense of why some wanted Jesus dead, read Matthew 21 and 22. Chapter 21 begins with Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, where crowds enthusiastically proclaimed “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (21:9) This was followed by Jesus clearing the temple as he told religious leaders they’d turned his Father’s house into a den of robbers, the cursing of a non-fruit bearing fig tree, a seeming symbol of God’s non-fruit bearing people, and an inquisition regarding his own authority that morphed into an uneasy exchange with the religious leaders about the authority of his now dead cousin, John the Baptist. All of this just before Jesus pulls three parabolic arrows from his quiver and aims them squarely between the eyes of the Jewish leadership.
These are parables of judgments. The first concludes with Jesus telling religious leaders that prostitutes and tax collectors were entering God’s Kingdom before them, the second accuses them of rejecting God’s prophets and God’s son, and then just in case he hadn’t been clear enough, Jesus offers them this story of a wedding feast. Some of his parables delivered his meaning slowly, subtly. Not this one. It is intentionally diaphanous. The religious leaders already know “he is talking about them.” (21:45) Now everyone listening should know Jesus’ view of God, God’s preferences and God’s perspective are dangerously different than the religious voices to which they’d become accustomed.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 8, 2017.
Klyne Snodgrass has written that this is “one of the most significant, most discussed and most complicated of all the parables.” Within its mysteries, this parable provides an opportunity to consider issues of faithfulness, stewardship, sin, judgment and God’s unrelenting grace. Familiarity with its Hebrew Bible and Jewish context will help us as we rise to meet the challenge of sharing it with our congregations. May those who have ears to hear receive every nudge this story has to offer them this week.
Matthew certainly draws a connection between this parable and the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5. Exploration of this connection enriches our understanding of the symbolism in the parable and helps us see what Jesus isn’t saying. Historically this story has been used to emphasize supersessionism as an illustration of God’s judgment upon Israel which resulted in Israel’s role in God’s Kingdom being transferred to the Church. One could interpret the parable this way. God sent them prophets right up to John the Baptist. They persecuted and rejected every single one. Now God, the owner of the vineyard, has sent God’s own Son whom they will also despise and reject. What do you think God will do to them?
This interpretation has been used over the years to justify anti-Semitism, with one obvious example coming from Josephus. He described the Romans using war machines to lob large stones into Jerusalem during the siege of the city: watchmen were accordingly posted by them on the towers, who gave warning whenever the engine was fired and the stone in transit, by shouting in their native tongue, “the son is coming,” Before and beyond this kind of inappropriate application, this is a reading neither Isaiah’s imagery nor the larger context in Matthew supports.