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 C on August 14, 2016.
We live in an era in which we get a daily dose of hard news born in hatred, division and violence. Churches and religious leaders search for words, and communities long for action. Do we have a gospel big enough for this moment?
It is easy to preach the pleasant Jesus – Jesus who heals, loves, comforts, feeds and restores. The problem is that the gospel story is more than one of a pasteurized and homogenized pleasant Jesus. Some of Jesus’ words disquiet us. The temptation is to walk away from the difficult words. But, if one desires to proclaim an authentic picture of Jesus, then one must be prepared to hold in tension the good and encouraging words with the difficult ones.
This lectionary passage draws us into words of fire, stress and divided families – of shattered peace and brewing storms. These are difficult and unsettling words from Jesus. In Luke’s gospel account, one feels a growing intensity from the moment Jesus, Peter and John come down the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:37-43), leading up to the moment in our passage. One finds Jesus offering words of judgement on the generation that stood before him and prophetic words of woe for cities, Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 9:4; 10:13-16; 11:29, 37-52). These strong indictments set the context for Jesus’ difficult words we encounter in the focal text.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on February 28, 2016.
In last week’s lectionary text (Luke 13:31-35), the narrative began with a group of Pharisees bringing frightening news to Jesus about a threat upon his life. We begin this week’s text with another troubling political report. Jesus is informed that Pilate has killed a group of Galileans. The events described in this passage cannot be located in Jewish resources from this period, but the historian, Josephus, acknowledges that Pilate was known to act with brutal force to maintain the balance of power. We are not given a reason for Pilate’s actions. It is possible that the Galileans were accused of insurgency and then executed. Their blood flowed together with the blood of sacrifices at the temple which suggests that they were likely in the vicinity of the temple when they were killed. This fact makes the report seem even more horrific.
Luke’s account does not provide insight into the intent of those who bring this report to Jesus. Perhaps they expected him to speak to the relative injustice of the situation as many of us might do. Perhaps they wanted him to be outraged and come to the Galileans defense, pronouncing God’s judgement against Roman perpetrators. Instead, Jesus responds in an unexpected manner by raising questions about judgement and suffering. There are references in scripture pointing to the fact that some Jews wondered if tragic events occurred as punishment for personal sins (for example, John 9:2-3). Why did these Galileans have to suffer so greatly, and what about the eighteen souls killed because the tower of Siloam fell upon them? We continue to ask difficult questions of theodicy today about why bad things happen to seemingly good people.