Barry Newman's Blog

January 17, 2013

The Parable of the Tenants (part X)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:00 pm

Understanding what followed the parable

Luke records how in answer to the rhetorical question of Jesus, “What will the master of the vineyard do …?” and his own reply, “He will come and destroy … and give … to others.” Jesus is met with the dramatic response, “May it not be!” Surely no one believed that the parable was simply a story without any point. But was it the case, from Luke’s point of view, that at least some in the crowd saw that the parable was a portrayal of God, his vineyard Israel and its religious leadership and how God would bring judgement upon that leadership and transfer their responsibilities to others?  Surely the reaction recorded would be unexpected if the listeners could not understand some aspects of what the story signified. Perhaps Luke had to include a reference to the response for the sake of his Gentile readership whom themselves, unlike the Jews who had listened to the parable, may have been slow to make the connection between the parable and the realities behind it.  The response, “May it not be!” would provoke the reader to think seriously about what the realities behind the parable might be.

It is at this point however, that in all three Gospels it is recorded that Jesus asks the question about the Scriptures that refer to the rejected stone becoming the head of the corner.  In the light of the obvious rejection of Jesus by the religious authorities in the electric environment leading up to the telling of the parable, surely some would conclude that not only did Jesus believe that the stone being rejected was Jesus himself but that this was indeed the case.  After all, he was the one whom had been greeted by crowds with the words, “Hosanna to the Son of David” as he approached the city of Jerusalem and by children with the same words as he healed in the temple.  Yet he was being opposed by the religious leaders, who in fact wanted him dead! Some thought he was a prophet but did some believe that he might be even more than a prophet?  Could he be the long promised and long awaited Messiah? Did some think that if he thought of himself as the head corner stone, did he consider himself to be the Messiah?  And in accord with the psalmist, this turn-around from being the rejected stone to the dominant stone – this would be God’s doing, if it came to pass. It could only be God’s doing and what a marvellous thing that would be – “wonderful to the eyes”. Would some in the crowd have thought even like that?

For Matthew’s readers, the severity of God’s judgment on those who rejected his Son would not be allowed in any way to be minimised. Jesus would continue by saying that the kingdom of God would be taken away from “you” – those who would have understood that the accusing finger was pointing at them – those who had opposed him so vehemently and who were yet to bring about his death – and given to a nation that would produce what God desired.  Did the words of Daniel 2 come to mind in any of the hearers? One could posit that in his reference to “nation”, Jesus was simply saying a group of people, still the Jewish people but considered to be a different nation being constituted under a new leadership, was what he had in mind. However, Matthew’s Gospel, though written for a Jewish readership, every now and again brings to the fore that the gospel has relevance for the gentile world.  The Magi from afar seek out the baby Jesus. “You are the light of the world” Jesus said to his disciples early in his ministry. It was a centurion’s servant and a demon possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman whom Jesus healed. The “sheep” and the “goats” come from the nations that the Son of Man will judge.  The followers of Jesus are to make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Is Matthew recording that this other “nation” is more like the gentile world, or at least not just the Jewish world?

Then as Matthew and Luke record, the stone, portrayed by the prophet Isaiah as Yahweh himself, and which Jesus links with the stone of the Psalmist, which he has identified as himself, that stone, will crush to pieces those who fall on that stone.  Oppose Yahweh and in the end he will grind you to powder.  Oppose Jesus and he will do likewise.  It is difficult not to see Jesus as closely identifying himself with Yahweh, or at least as acting for Yahweh.  And do we not now know that he is the judge whom the Father has appointed to judge the world?

Having heard the parable and having perceived that the parable had them in mind, the scribes, the chief priests and the Pharisees seek, what will be in effect the carrying out its prophecy. They wanted to arrest him then but the crowd holding him in such awe and regarding him as a prophet, made that impossible.  They would seek another time.

There is an ambiguity in the text.  Was it only the religious hierarchy that perceived that the parable had been spoken against them or did the crowds also perceive the same thing?  It is not improbable that the crowds saw it the same way as the religious leadership.  I have already suggested such. In which case, part of the problem for those seeking to do away with Jesus is that the crowds may have seen them in the same light that Jesus saw them.  Their intentions would have been too obvious.  They wanted Jesus dead!

At this point, one might have expected all three Gospels to have recounted, almost immediately upon the telling of the parable, the actual arrest of Jesus, his trials and the crucifixion.  However, while indeed there were only a few days between the telling of the parable and these events, each of the Gospels reports numerous other things that Jesus said and did. None the less the significance of much of what he said and did during those few remaining days is partly derived from the circumstances behind the telling of the parable and the parable itself.  But that is another story.

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