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 July 2, 2017.
In this selection, Jesus takes up the topic of whining. Which is appropriate since the parable contained within it will prove perplexing enough to elicit whining from any preacher who finds it assigned by the lectionary.
Jesus starts off by wondering out loud how to allegorize his contemporaries, what image best captures their character. What he settles on is not one of his clearer statements. Straightforwardly he might have said, “Y’all spend so much of your time whining that you miss what treasures sit right under your nose. You’re like a bunch of whining kids who fail to realize that they’ve been handed the keys to the kingdom.” Not Jesus, who goes on not only to give his not-clearest-parable ever but also to praise God’s mysterious nature, that God reveals truths by keeping things “hidden” “from the wise and intelligent” even while giving them to infants (that is, children who are not even quite children yet), such is God’s “gracious will” (v. 25 and v. 26).
Two interpretive questions arise. What is meant by the parable? And why is Jesus so squirrely about its meaning? About the parable, there are, as one might imagine, competing interpretations, but the best ones underscore Jesus’ invocation of “Son of Man” in v. 19. You will recall that Jesus’ reference draws one back to Daniel 7:13-14, where God is described “like a son of man” who rides on “the clouds of heaven” and ushers in God’s glorious and powerful kingdom which the Son of Man will rule and everyone will serve. Before one gets carried away imagining Jim Morrison’s amazingly rich baritone singing The Doors’ “riders on the storm, into this house we’re born” and catapulting oneself into Heidegger’s Geworfenheit (thrownness), we can safely say that that was probably not what Jesus had in mind. Rather, the reference to the Son of Man is meant to identify Jesus with the one about which Daniel prophesied. If that is the case, then those who might think Jesus a “glutton” or a “drunkard” or who defamed him because of his association with tax-collectors and sinners are made to look a bit silly and juvenile. Jesus is not to be judged as John was in announcing Jesus. No, Jesus brings the power and the glory, ushering in the arrival of the Kingdom and declaring his judgment of everything, including those who dared to judge him.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on August 28, 2016.
This passage begins with Jesus going to the home of the leader of a synagogue for a Sabbath meal. Luke provides no fanfare in his introduction of this story, but the setting for this narrative would have been striking to the gospel’s first audience. The Gospels are filled with confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees. They also offer stories of Jesus having dinner with tax collectors and sinners. However, Luke alone tells stories of Jesus eating with Pharisees. In Chapter 7, Luke recounts Jesus’ eating with a Pharisee when the unexpected and the scandalous occurred. A sinful woman came in and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with perfume (7:36-50). Now in Chapter 14, one finds Jesus at the table of another Pharisee. This setting should forewarn the audience that they should be prepared for either a significant event or a significant word from Jesus.
The lectionary text omits verses 2 through 6. This omission is unfortunate as it aids in understanding the selected text’s context. In these verses Jesus heal a man with “abnormal swelling of his body” (v. 2). Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath is a reoccurring issue between Jesus and the Pharisees. One sees this tension played out in Chapter 13 when Jesus heals the bent and broken woman on the Sabbath within the synagogue walls. Jesus uses a similar explanation to validate healing on the Sabbath in both chapters. Jesus’ choice to heal on the Sabbath in front of the Pharisees and within the home of a Pharisee would have created tension in the room. In this context Jesus speaks both to the dinner guests and the meal’s host.