McFarland

Wednesday Bible Study by Pastor Kelli

Light a candle

Read Matthew 21:33-46

Welcome back to another meditation and Bible Study on the Gospel text for the upcoming Sunday!

Reminder: Huldah Ellestad – our Coordinator of Lay Ministry and Adult Education – is leading a discussion on Zoom based on this text and video recording, Thursday evenings at 7 PM.  If you’d like to join Huldah and others for that Bible Study and conversation, feel free to email her and she will get you the Zoom link.

This is a doozie of a reading.  This parable is in all three synoptic gospels but, according to scholar Matt Skinner, this version from Matthew’s Gospel is the most violent and disturbing.[1]  Yikes…

To get a sense of where we are with this parable, it might be helpful to first understand when Jesus is speaking and to whom.  Jesus shares this parable on the Tuesday of Holy Week.[2]  He has entered Jerusalem and, in a few days, will be executed on a hill outside the city.  We know as the Gospel stories unfold, the intensity between the religious leaders and Jesus continues to increase – and here we are, the Tuesday of Holy Week.

Jesus is also speaking to the elite of that city: namely the chief priests and Pharisees.  This parable was not intended for mass consumption; this is not the Sermon on the Mount proclaimed to all who could hear him.[3]  Jesus has a very specific audience so this parable is specifically for them – for those who had great impact and influence on the religious life and practices at that time.

Again, Matt Skinner points out that through his parable, Jesus critiques the religious leaders because “they are loading on more obligations upon people.  They are making religion onerous and not liberative.”[4]  Rather than proclaiming the overwhelming freedom extended by God to those God loves, the emphasis was, instead, placed on the endless and expanding list of rules one needed to strive to follow in order to, supposedly, be in good standing with God.  The focus is on what we can do to keep our relationship with God and the community, rather than focusing on what God has done and is doing to establish and maintain a relationship with us. [5]

At the end of his story, Jesus asks the leaders, “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  This clever question leads them to “pronounce their own condemnation:”[6] “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” (v41)

While this is a violent and disturbing parable, scholar Karoline Lewis, posed questions that invite us into the place of the tenants caring for the vineyard: What are we caring for right now to further the kingdom of God?  What is our vineyard?  Where do we have agency?[7]

[1] Matt Skinner from: Working Preacher, “Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Oct. 4, 2020) – Working Preacher’s Sermon Brainwave episode #745,” Sep 28, 2020, video, 34:25, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myG8X4lNfNo.

[2] M. Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vo. 8 (Nashville: Abindgon Press, 1995), 407.

[3] Matt Skinner from: Working Preacher, “Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.”

[4] Matt Skinner from: Working Preacher, “Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.”

[5] David Lose, “Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher: Crazy Love (a. k. a. Preaching Matthew Against Matthew” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1486 (accessed September 18, 2020.)

[6] Boring. 414.

[7] Karoline Lewis from: Working Preacher, “Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.”

Reflection Questions

1) Finding ourselves in the shoes of the religious leaders: what rules, emphases, boundaries do we place on religious practices and people’s relationship with God – either others’ relationship with God, our own? Are those structures fruitful of the kingdom?  What practices or perspectives are overly burdensome and which ones are delightfully liberative?

2) What are you caring for right now to further the kingdom of God? What is your vineyard?  Where do you have agency?

3) How might God be calling you to respond to this passage?

Extinguish the candle