Thursday 14 September 2023

Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“ ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

Jesus tells three stories with surprising reversals in response to a challenge to his authority by the Jewish leaders. This is the second of those.

They would have recognized the story about a vineyard as echoing Isaiah 5:1-7 where Israel is portrayed as a vineyard planted by God in expectation of fruit of “justice” and “righteousness” but instead it produced “bloodshed” and “cries of distress.” But in this case the vineyard isn’t the problem. It’s that the tenants refuse to give the owner the fruit he is due. They abuse and kill the owner’s servants and then kill his son.

Jesus asks them what will happen when the owner comes. They say that he will kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. That may be what they deserve, and Jesus says the kingdom will be given to others. But it happens in a surprisingly different way.

As the story in Matthew unfolds, we see that Jesus defeats the powers of this world through his death and resurrection. He overcomes those who put the son to death, not with more death, but with restored resurrection life. Rather than overcome the powers of this world with more of their violence, he disarms them by cancelling the debt of sin that gives them power over us (Colossians 2:13-15). It’s brilliant. God defeats evil by being its opposite. What else would he do?

I love the way God constantly surprises me by the brilliant, creative, unexpected things he does. But how can I walk with my God when he keeps being so surprising? Perhaps my mind needs to be renewed and transformed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:1-2) so that I start to think more like Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Perhaps I need to watch him closely and listen to him carefully (Hebrews 12:1-2). Perhaps I should view my world with hope and expectation that God will do more than I could ever expect (Ephesians 3:20-21). Perhaps I need to be ready to follow Jesus outside my comfort zone. Or perhaps all of the above.

Jesus, please take me with you today as you continue reconciling the world in surprisingly wonderful ways. Holy Spirit, give me eyes to see and wits to recognise what you’re doing today, and courage to be part of it.

Written by David Cornell

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