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This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
New English Translation (NET)
The Parable of the Tenants
33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 34 When the harvest time was near, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his portion of the crop. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and get his inheritance!’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will utterly destroy those evil men! Then he will lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his portion at the harvest.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, because the crowds regarded him as a prophet
Matthew reports Jesus as giving a savage summary of Israel’s history; for of course Israel is the “planting of the Lord, his vineyard.” This had been a theme of the prophets (see Isaiah 5), but it had never been used with such finality as here. The rulers of the people have rejected and abused the messengers of the Owner, they have even plotted to kill the Owner’s son and to possess the vineyard for their own profit, but they themselves will be rejected and dispossessed by the Owner, who will give the land to a new people. Scholars have tended to say that this parable has been sharpened by the separation of Judaism and Christianity around the time Matthew was writing. That’s certainly possible, but it’s also quite likely that Jesus used the prophetic tradition in this way.
The quotation from Psalm 118 has also been savagely remodelled by Jesus. In the Psalm the “rejected stone” is both Israel and its destroyed-but-rebuilt temple. Here it stands for Jesus and his cause. This change of reference would have been bitter to the religious leaders; and the praise offered to God would have seemed like a taunt. It would perhaps be a relief to agree that Matthew’s representation of Jesus’ dispute with the religious leadership is exaggerated, coloured by his contemporary experience; but we should also consider the possibility that in these confrontations Jesus was face to face with his real enemy, the vested interest of a ruling religious class. Such a class often disguises its own interest as the “survival of our faith”, or the “peace of the church”. Those who have studied the Christian church’s response to the equality of women or gay people; or for that matter to the sexual abuse of children by clergy, will see a reflection of Jesus’ struggle with the religious leaders of his society. As our contemporary leaders deal with such divisive issues, they must be helped to see that the stone they are rejecting may become the cornerstone.