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.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 25, 2017.
Romans 5 emphasizes the free gift of boundless grace through Jesus Christ available to any who place their trust in him. In just three verses (vss. 15-17) Paul mentions this “free gift” five times. Comparing Adam to Christ, we are reminded that the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift of grace that followed many trespasses brings justification. This discourse culminates with the promise, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Left on its own, Romans 5 could be interpreted as a free pass to intentionally live in sin, so as not to diminish the full potential of grace in our lives and world. With that in mind, Paul follows his discourse on boundless grace in Romans 5, with a direct question in Romans: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”
This question posed by Paul to the first-century church resounds in our churches today. While many pastors are exceedingly comfortable preaching a sermon on grace, few tackle the realities of sin on a consistent basis for fear of sounding too harsh, too judgmental, or too impractical. We are more comfortable inviting folks to “come as you are because God’s grace is immense,” than we are challenging folks “not to dare leave unchanged because God makes us a new creation.” While the church is still into sinning, we are not really into talking about sinning. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous description of cheap grace, he says we have become masters at, “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Bonhoeffer speaks into what Paul feared might happen. Because the grace of Jesus Christ is free and abounding, the people of Christ might be tempted to take it for granted. When the preacher introduces this text, it will first be necessary to remind the church that we do sin indeed, and that is indeed a big deal. Only then can delve into the relationship between sin and grace together.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 18, 2017.
In Romans 1 and 2, Paul emphasizes the universality of human sin, claiming that both Jews and Gentiles fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3 and 4 show God’s response to humanity’s desperate condition. Because of Christ’s righteousness, we are now justified by God’s grace. Romans 4, however, is not the happily ever after ending of this letter. In chapters 5 to 8, Paul addresses the “now what?” of faith. What are we to do while we wait to stand before the throne of God, permitted access by the grace of Christ? We ask this because while our justification is indeed very good news, in this world, Christ has redeemed sin and suffering still remain. Romans 5:1-8 begins a section of the epistle that speaks into how we live faithfully in the present while putting our hope in the future.
Already the justified have peace with God and access to his grace because of Jesus Christ. Already, through faith in Christ, we are reconciled in our relationship with God. Already we are redeemed. Therefore, whatever comes our way is powerless to shake who we are and to whom we belong. With that comes the gift of peace today. And yet, we wait for the day we will share in the glory of God. We hope for a future day when we will see him, know him, and reflect his glory and goodness unhindered and undeterred. While we walk in a world still plagued by sin and suffering, we have peace that today we have access to God’s grace. And we have hope that one day we will be delivered from all sin, suffering, and shame, while we reflect his glory forever. Both this present peace and future hope give us what we need to put one foot in front of the other on the journey of faith.