Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jesus's Parables Against the Pharisees - Matthew 21:33-46

Very Brief Recap
Remember, we're going through the part of Matthew's Gospel where Jesus spends a long time confronting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and other religious elite.
Missed our previous posts on this war of words?  Here are Part 1 and Part 2.
Today, we'll look at Jesus's 2nd parable against the religious elite, both dissecting its meaning and looking for how to apply it to our own lives instead of just storing up head knowledge. :-)

This is a very link-happy post where I direct you to Scripture verses and passages, so if you're new around here, links appear hot pink if you're reading on the blog itself and blue if you're reading via e-mail subscription.  Be sure to check them out. :-)
The Scripture
33 "Listen to another parable.  There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey.
34 "When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce.
35 "The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third.
36 "Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them.
37 "But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
38 "But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.'
40 "Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?"
41 They said to Him, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons."
43 "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.
44 "And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.
46 When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because the considered Him to be a prophet.
The Symbols

Here's my take on them, anyway... :-)
The landowner is God.  God's always the easy one to figure out in parables like this - He's the guy in charge. :-)
The vine-growers are, in this case, both all of God's people, and specifically the religious leaders - the people who were given the commission to help God's people grow, but weren't doing their job.  In Matthew 15:14, Jesus called them "blind guides," and in Matthew 23:4, He says that they "tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders."  However, for applying this today (and looking in Isaiah 5, the origin of this parable), we should keep in mind that we all have a commission as "God's farmers," that is, to share His Gospel with the world, so we should view this in that light.  We all must produce fruit, we all have a responsibility.
The slaves here are the prophets (all the Old Testament ones, plus John the Baptist).  In our culture, the word "slave" is a very negative thing (as it should be), but in the Bible, it doesn't mean the same thing.  In the New Testament, we are referred to as bond-servants 24 times (a bond-servant was a voluntary slave who chose to serve a master they loved), and by my count, only as slaves 5 times (excepting the parables, which are symbolic so they don't count) - three times in Romans 6:16-19, and once each in 1 Corinthians 9:19 and Ephesians 6:6 ... and in all these cases, it is still presented as a matter of voluntary choice.  What's more, Galatians 4:7 is one of multiple verses that explicitly state that God views us as sons and daughters, not slaves.  So, then, being a "slave" is from our perspective - our willing choice to obey God, no matter what.  In the prophets' specific case, they were willing to say "yes" to God even to the point of dying brutal deaths.
The vineyard is a bit trickier to pin down.  It could be seen as the world (what we would call the missions field), or as God's people (for us, the Church).  For the Pharisees against whom this was spoken, their primary responsibility was to God's people (again, that's what is portrayed in Isaiah 5), but in modern times, God's followers' "vineyard" is both the Church and the world.  The landowner gave the vine-growers everything they needed to produce fruit in this vineyard (see verse 34), then went on a journey and left it in their hands - just like God gives us every possible way to come to Him, grow in Him, and follow His calling for our lives, but He ultimately leaves the choice of what to do with those gifts up to us.
What is this harvest time?  Elsewhere in the New Testament, it can refer to a final judgment scenario or bringing lost souls to Christ.  I don't think it's either of those here, but definitely related.  It seems to me that this is God calling His people to step out in faith in something, perform a good work He has planned for them, come back to Him after a time of rebellion - any of that.  Simply, God expecting fruit.  It makes sense, then, that the prophets would come to "demand" this when spiritual fruit wasn't being given to God.  Good motivation for us - let's serve God all the time so He doesn't have to send another of His followers to point out to us that we're not serving Him! ;-)
And finally, the last symbol is the landowner's son - Jesus.  That one's pretty obvious, but what I find interesting is the vine-growers' motivation: They wanted power they knew they weren't entitled to have.  The religious leaders could have seen that Jesus was Messiah far easier than anyone else since they were so familiar with the Scriptures, but I believe they refused to see that for this very reason - because the Messiah wanted to strip them of their wrongful power.
The Response
The response of the religious elite is disturbing.  They would have been familiar highly familiar with Isaiah 5, which Jesus was boldly alluding to and even directly quoting, and they knew in their hearts what justice would be for the vine-growers (see verse 41).
And yet, they were so blinded to their own wickedness that they couldn't see how it applied to them, so they proclaimed the judgment on themselves!
We need to constantly be aware of what's going on in our hearts, and ask God to reveal our sin to us, so we are not likewise this blind.
Corner Stone
For ancient buildings with stone foundations, the corner stone was the first stone laid in the ground, on which the entire house's measurements and alignments would depend - so it had to be flawless.  Jesus is here Himself the cornerstone (see Acts 4:10-12), but in this case, it also applies to the point He's been hammering into their heads and will continue to hammer: that the religious fakers who weren't really serving God did not truly possess the kingdom of God, because it belongs to we wretched sinners who repent and serve the Lord.  In God's eyes, it doesn't matter how badly we've screwed up, or what horrible people the world thinks we are because of those mistakes - when we ask His forgiveness and make Him our Lord, we become perfect stones in His sight, far more righteous than the religious elite who fast and maintain legalism - all because of Christ.
Let's look at verse 44 again:
And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.
Not as cryptic as it seems. :-)  Let's break it down very simply:
  • Everyone will come into contact with the stone (that is, Christ) - but not in the same way.  Some (the saved) will choose to make their contact with Him here on Earth, but others (the unsaved) will refuse a relationship with Him, only to meet Him at the final judgment.
  • The people the stone falls on are the unsaved (and in this specific case, the unsaved religious elite).  Christ will crush them in final judgment.
  • We who fall on the stone are the ones who choose to bow to the True God.  We will be broken, too, not in judgment, but (1) as we willingly allow God to work in our hearts, removing our sin as we offer Him our "broken spirit" [see Psalm 66:10, Isaiah 48:10, Daniel 12:10, Zechariah 13:9, and Malachi 3:3]; and (2) as we suffer for our God at the hands of unsaved persecutors.
This is a tangent, but relevant:
If the devil were wise enough and would stand by in silence and let the gospel be preached, he would suffer less harm.  For when there is no battle for the gospel it rusts and it finds no cause and no occasion to show its vigor and power.  Therefore, nothing better can befall the gospel than that the world should fight it with force and cunning.
- Martin Luther
Finally, at the very end of the chapter, the religious elite realized that they had been duped into condemning themselves, and have been publically ridiculed and denounced.  But Jesus was not done with them yet, and it was not quite the time when He chose to give His life - so we'll go further into this subject next study, as we start Matthew 22.  See you then. :-)
Questions for You
Is there anything you'd like to add to our discussion?  Maybe you saw something in the parable that I missed, or something really spoke to you that you'd like to expand on.  Or maybe you have a question.  Leave a comment to share. :-)
Image Credit
Image 1: "A Vineyard" photo taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.  Wikipedia.  Public domain in the United States.

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