GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
If you've been journeying with us in the last few months, you'll notice that we've had a number of occasions to look carefully at Matthew’s parables, of the parables of Jesus.
This Gospel is just full of them, and
on this Sunday we are going to get one of Jesus's final parables that he tells before his passion, and his death, and his resurrection.
It is one of the parables that he delivers in the context of the mounting opposition that's rising in Jerusalem in his last days before his execution.
And that parable is the famous parable of the wicked tenants.
So for the 27th Sunday in Year A, we are going to pick up in Matthew 21:33-43.
We will read the parable and then we will try to put it in context and unpack its meaning.
So in Matthew 21:33 Jesus says:
“Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country.
When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them.
Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.'
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.'
And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"
They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."
Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures:
`The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.
And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.”
So I realize that the last verse that I just read isn't in the lectionary, but it is actually a part of the parable and I want to say something about it in just a few moments, as it does shed some light on Jesus' use of the language of the kingdom of God.
But for now, I want to ask a few questions.
So what is the meaning of this parable of the wicked tenants?
How would it have been understood by Jesus' Jewish audience that he was speaking to in the first century?
A few points here.
Number one, the context, the immediate context of this parable in Matthew's Gospel is very important.
If you go back to Matthew 21:23, it makes clear that Jesus pronounces the parable of the wicked tenants in the Temple in Jerusalem while he is speaking to the chief priests and the elders of the people.
So the audience that he is addressing in this parable isn't like the crowds of Galilee in the Sermon on the Mount, or something like that.
He is speaking directly to the Jewish priests and the Jewish elders, the leaders of the people, in the city of Jerusalem and in the Temple itself.
So the context, once again, is this mounting conflict between Jesus and these Jewish leaders who are asking him questions, trying to test him, trying to entrap him, and so on and so forth.
That background is important because this is one of those parables — they all are rooted in first century Judaism — but this is one of those parables where you really can't understand it unless you look at the Old Testament, unless you look at the Old Testament background.
Because when Jesus draws on the metaphor of a vineyard and the vineyard owner, and the workers in the vineyard, on the one hand he is definitely appealing to something that people would've known from the agricultural life of Judaism in the first century, in which wine was a stable commodity and in which there were vineyards that people worked.
People would've been familiar with the reality of a first century vineyard.
But he is specifically alluding to an Old Testament prophecy, an Old Testament text about the vineyard of the Lord, as the background to his parable.
If you look at his parable, he has a few key characters.
He has the householder — or the owner of the vineyard,
he has the vineyard itself — which is a kind of symbol for something — he has the tenants who work the vineyard, he has the servants of the master who were sent to the tenants but who are rejected by the tenants, and then finally, of course, the son.
What is all of this an allusion to?
In this case I think it's important to start first with the Old Testament background, which is actually from another allegory of another vineyard, namely the prophet Isaiah's allegory of the vineyard in chapter 5 of the book of Isaiah.
So just turn back with me for just a moment to Isaiah 5.
Jesus isn't the first person to make an allegory of a vineyard.
Isaiah had done it about eight centuries before Jesus in chapter 5 of his book, which is, not surprisingly, the first reading for this Sunday.
So if you look at your first reading for today, Isaiah's parable, or allegory of the vineyard, sometimes called the song of the vineyard, says this:
Let me sing for my beloved
a love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He digged it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge, I pray you, between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you…
And remember, this is the Lord speaking.
…what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
but behold, a cry!
Okay, so even if you just read Jesus’ parable and read Isaiah, you can already see some of the key parallels here between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Obviously Isaiah is making an allegorical comparison between the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem and this image of God as the divine owner of a vineyard and the people as its fruits.
So what he is saying here is he's describing this sort of love song about the vineyard, which is really meant to describe, in a sense, Israel as the bride and the Lord as the bridegroom, the divine bridegroom.
And in this allegory of Isaiah, the beloved or the vineyard owner is of course God himself.
The vineyard is — this important — it’s both the house of Israel, in a sense the people of Israel, but it is also the city of Jerusalem which was mentioned there in verse three, and specifically to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
You can see that because it talks about the watchtower and it also talks about the walls being broken down.
So the idea is that just as a vineyard has a tower in it, and a vineyard has walls around, so too Jerusalem, the city, has a tower and it has walls built around it.
But the walls of that city and the tower in that city are going to come crumbling down.
In other words, this is a prophecy of Jerusalem's destruction and a prophecy of judgment against the leadership of Jerusalem and the inhabitants of Jerusalem who were supposed to be in this covenant relationship of love with God, but who have in fact broken that relationship and violated it through their sin.
And the imagery that Isaiah uses for that is the contrast between grapes and wild grapes.
So if Jerusalem is the vineyard of the Lord, it was supposed to produce grapes, which symbolized righteousness.
But instead of making the fruit of righteousness for the Lord, they bear wild grapes, which would basically be grapes that were too bitter to make wine with.
They were unsuitable for the production of wine.
Those wild grapes are a symbol for unrighteousness.
You can see this here when he talks about bloodshed in the city or the cry of the oppressed.
So the wild grapes signify the wickedness and the sin and the unrighteousness of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
So that Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 5.
Think about it and put yourself in the perspective of a first century Jew, and not just a first century Jew, but like a chief priest or an elder, or one of the rabbis, who knew the Scriptures and knew that Isaiah had condemned the Jerusalem of his day and its leaders because of their wickedness by drawing out this allegory of a vineyard and it's bad fruit.
Now Jesus comes on the scene and is in the Temple right in front of you, and he says well let me tell you another parable, and he does the exact same thing.
He gives an allegory of a vineyard where the tenants of the vineyard are wicked.
So in Jesus' allegory, in Jesus’ parable, obviously some of the things are similar. First, the householder or the owner of the vineyard is a symbol for God, is a symbol for the Lord.
Secondly, the vineyard is a symbol not just for the people of Judah, but for the leaders in Jerusalem in particular, for the city of Jerusalem.
Third, and this is really critical, the tenants, who are these wicked tenants?
Well in context, Jesus is throwing this in the face of the chief priests and the elders in Jerusalem.
And the reason he is doing that is because he's relying on the history of Israel.
Notice what God says.
In the allegory, in the story, the owner of the vineyard says “I am going to send my servants,” and one of them gets beaten, one of them gets killed, and one of them get stoned by the tenants in Jerusalem, by the leaders of the people.
What is that a reference to?
Well it is a reference to the history of the prophets in Israel.
So the servants here represent the prophets whom God would send to Israel whenever it had fallen into sin in order to call them to repentance.
And what did the leaders, especially the priests in Jerusalem, do to the prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel?
What did they do?
They persecuted them.
In fact, as some scholars have pointed out, you can even see here maybe specific allusions to specific prophets.
So for example, when it says that one of the servants was killed, that might be a reference to Isaiah, because Isaiah was the most famous of the Old Testament prophets after Elijah, and guess how he met his end?
He was sawn in two by the wicked king Manasseh.
We know this from ancient Jewish tradition.
They had a very ancient tradition of Isaiah being killed by King Manasseh by being cut in half, and that's how that great prophet met his end.
The other image there of one of the servants being stoned, some scholars suggest, is an allusion to the prophet Jeremiah, who, if you recall, went to Jerusalem and told the chief priests and the elders that they were wicked, called them to repentance, and said if you don't repent the city is going to be destroyed 600 years before Jesus.
And how were Jeremiah's prophecies received?
Well they threw him in a cistern, for one thing — they tried to kill him multiple times — but eventually, according to Jewish tradition again, Jeremiah ended up in Egypt where he was stoned to death.
So the imagery here of being killed, being stoned, is actual correspondence with Jewish tradition about the lives of the prophets, about the death of the prophets.
Now at this point in the parable something interesting happens.
You might recall from previous videos that I've said that Jesus’ parables almost always have a twist.
In other words, there is something in the story that's unexpected or even seemingly irrational, and we can tend to miss it because we are so familiar with the story.
But the original Jewish audience wouldn’t have missed it because it was shocking to them.
And in this case, the twist to this parable is the same thing, it is the key.
After this master of the vineyard sends all of his servants and they end up getting beaten and thrown out and stoned to death, it then says this,
“afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’”
Now pause there for a second.
If you were the owner of a vineyard, and you lived away, and you had been sending servants to these wicked tenants, and over and over again they not only persecuted them, but they killed them, they stoned them to death, would your next step be to say “Hey!
I’ve got it.
Let me send my son.”
That doesn’t make any sense at all, because these people have shown that they honestly don't respect your emissaries, and the only thing you're doing is setting your son up to be put to death as well.
So this is one of those cases where you would be scratching your head if you were hearing the parable.
What kind of crazy father would send his own son to a group of wicked tenants such as this.
And the answer is that this is not an ordinary father, and this is not an ordinary son.
It's an allegory here for God the Father sending Jesus, his son, to offer his life, knowing full well he is going to die for the sake of the sins of the world in order to bring in the coming of the kingdom of God.
That's what's going on in this parable.
So obviously here in this case the son represents Christ, the son represents the Messiah, the son represents Jesus, who is in fact killed by the leaders of Jerusalem.
And just as in the parable, it says that the tenants took him and cast him out of the vineyard, the same thing happens with Jesus' body.
He is executed by the Jewish leaders not inside the city, but outside the walls of the city, in a sense, outside the walls of the vineyard.
John's Gospel makes that clear in John 19, that Golgotha is outside the city walls.
So what are the results of this parable?
You can see Jesus saying here, “here is the story, what would the owner of the vineyard do?”
Well in this case, even the chief priests and elders in the audience recognize that he's going to kill those miserable wretches.
He is going to put them to death and is going to give the vineyard to somebody else.
And that's really where they stumble onto it, because Jesus takes that truth that they have just uttered and says, “there is the key,” and he goes back to the Old Testament and says “haven’t you read in the Scriptures, ‘the stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner”?
Now you might be thinking, what is he talking about?
Well he's quoting Psalm 118, which was a very famous Psalm in Jewish tradition for two reasons.
First, it was the Psalm that was sung during the Passover.
It was one of the hallel psalms, a series of Psalms, Psalms 113-118, that people would chant as they celebrated Passover.
So this was one of the psalms that everybody knew.
You knew all the verses.
You knew all the lines.
You knew the melody.
You knew how to chant it.
You knew how to sing it.
So when Jesus quotes Psalm 118, everybody would've known what text he was referring to.
But in Jewish tradition, this Psalm was also understood as a prophecy of the Messiah.
So when it says “the stone that the builders rejected has become the head of corner,” the image there is of the stone as a symbol for the Messiah, who becomes the foundation stone for a new temple.
Which, in Jewish tradition, when the Messiah comes, one of things he would do is that he would build a new temple, and he would usher in the time of a new Jerusalem, a new city of Jerusalem.
So in this case, what Jesus is doing here is basically saying to them, “I am the stone” (in other words “I am the Messiah”)
“rejected by the builders,” (who are you, namely the leaders of Jerusalem) “but although you've rejected me, I'm going to become the cornerstone of a new Jerusalem and a new temple.”
Now what does that imply then about the current Temple and the current Jerusalem?
Well just like Jeremiah before him and just like Isaiah, this is the kind of implicit threat where Jesus is warning them that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed.
The Temple itself is going to come down as Jesus says elsewhere in Matthew's Gospel.
That's going to be one of the charges they bring up against him at his trial.
He said that he would “destroy this temple and in three days build another.”
Well when does Jesus ever really say “Hey, I'm going to destroy the temple” in the Gospel of Matthew?
Well he doesn’t, but there’s a kind implicit threat in this verse that the Temple is going to be destroyed going back to the Psalm 118.
But Jesus doesn't leave it there.
He goes even further...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So if you recall, I talked about the fact that Paul is concerned about the Church at Philippi. He’s writing from his imprisonment, likely in Rome, sending this letter to them to encourage them. And one of the things he’s trying to teach them is to be at peace, no matter what the circumstances they may find themselves in. And in this passage, he’s really emphasizing something that I think is very important and relevant for our own day and also for early Christians, especially in the context of persecution and tribulation that they went through: namely, freedom from anxiety. Freedom from anxiety—that’s really the theme of the reading for today.
And the first thing I would say about this is that...number one, when Paul tells the Church at Philippi to have no anxiety about anything, that might seem like a grandiose claim or rather an extravagant demand that he’s making. But in fact, although he doesn’t quote Jesus here, he’s simply echoing the teaching of Christ. He’s getting this teaching directly from the Sermon on the Mount.
So if you go back to the Sermon on the Mount—and I don’t mean he’s quoting the Sermon on the Mount, I’m just saying it's the same content. So in Matthew 6—I don’t know about you, but this is one of my favorite teachings of Jesus but also one of the most difficult to put into practice…is Jesus’ famous teaching on anxiety in Matthew 6:25-34. And in it, you recall He says:
“...do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
And then in verse 34, He says:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
Now in the Greek there, the word for “anxiety”—it’s very similar to the stem, the root of the word for remembering something. Merimnaō
is the Greek word. And so when we’re anxious about things, what we tend to do is think about them, remember them, ponder them, worry over them. And Jesus here, when He speaks this word “do not be anxious,” it’s in the form of a command. It’s not just a suggestion. He’s commanding His disciples not to have anxiety about anything.
And so Paul does the same thing here in the letter to the Philippians. He says it as an imperative, a command:
Have no anxiety about anything… (Philippians 4:6a)
And I don’t know about you, but my response to that is: Well, that’s great. I appreciate the advice...but how do I do that? What is the secret to freedom from anxiety?
And thankfully, Paul, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit here, gives us not just the command but he also gives us the method. He gives us the practical explanation of how to do that. So if you just look at the next line, he says:
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Ah, so there it is. So what is the secret to freedom from anxiety? How can we practically practice…How does he expect the Philippians to practice being free from anxiety when they’re facing difficult circumstances? Two things. Pray—number one, prayer. And then thanksgiving, number two. And this is very important.
I think many of us would recognize that prayer is important. But we tend to forget the second part, which is to pray to God, not just with supplication—asking I need this, I need that, I need this, I need that, petitions, that’s that kind of prayer—but with the prayer of thanksgiving...in other words, gratitude. Gratitude.
And the Greek word there for “thanksgiving”—surprise, surprise—is eucharistia
, which means thanksgiving. It’s also the word that’s going to eventually become the term of choice to describe the Lord’s Supper, the Christian Eucharist, the Christian thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for what? Thanksgiving for the incarnation, thanksgiving for the redemption, for the passion, death, and the resurrection of Christ...and all of the eternal rewards that were won by Christ.
So how does that help with freedom from anxiety? Well, one of the things Paul recognizes here is that if the Philippians can not only ask God for good things—he says “make your requests,” he’s not saying don’t ask God for good things—but if they can couple those requests for good things with thanksgiving to God, gratitude to God no matter what circumstances they find themselves in, they’re going to cultivate a freedom from anxiety. Because when you’re thankful to God no matter what happens, it gradually gives you the strength, the grace to detach—or should I say, to arrive at a place where your happiness, your peace, isn’t contingent on circumstances. Because as long as the peace that you possess is contingent on everything going well around you, you will never have any peace. Because in this world, everything’s not always going to go well; it’s just not going to happen.
And Paul recognizes that. I mean, he’s in prison, and he’s writing this. He’s not in prison because he’s not holy. He was
holy. He’s not in prison because he’s not doing God’s will. He is
doing God’s will. But he’s suffering precisely because that is what God has called him to. Nevertheless, he has peace. And it’s not a natural peace that he’s talking about here. He’s talking about a supernatural peace that’s a gift of grace. That’s why he says:
...the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So when the peoples’ intellect and will—their hearts and their minds—are rooted in Christ, and they can give thanks no matter what happens, then they will have found the secret to a peace that passes understanding....the secret to freedom from anxiety.
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