The occasional thoughts of an ordinary man serving an extraordinary God. Come with me as we learn, teach, and laugh along the way.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
In Answering: Luke 20
Luke 20 sees the chief priests and elders confronting Jesus. Again. This is habit of theirs. It’s an ineffective habit, but a habit nonetheless. Perhaps we can learn something right here from the chief priests and elders: if you find yourself constantly arguing and losing, maybe you’re wrong? It’s worth considering.
They come and confront Jesus with a question about his authority to do what he is doing. The likely inciting incident for this direct question is the cleansing of the Temple—they want to know how Jesus thinks he has the right to say what can and cannot happen in the worship center of the people of Israel. Rather than answer them directly, Jesus gives them a question to deal with. Here we see that Jesus is not only the master of answering trap questions, but also the master of asking questions. He hits them with a choice: speak the truth or be politically expedient. They fail and try to equivocate.
The remainder of Luke 20 sees a continued effort by the religious leaders to stymie Jesus. They toss various questions at him and are dissatisfied with the answers. They’re also undaunted in their efforts by the answers. Here’s a question for most of us: are we more interested in getting answers or asking questions?
As in the last few chapters, Luke gives us one of Jesus’ parables in the midst of the other activities. The parable of the vineyard serves is the hinge for this chapter, and so draws our focus. The action after the parable is driven by the response of the religious leaders to Jesus telling it.
First, though, consider that Jesus tells this parable after silencing his critics, again. He is not out to silence critics: he is out to proclaim the Kingdom of God. We would do well to gather that truth. Be more concerned with proclaiming the Kingdom. We may have to stir up the critics a second time, but we cannot be satisfied with being “right.” We must share God’s loving truth.
Now, the parable of the vineyard runs a familiar story line for Jesus’ parables. There is a metaphor for God’s Kingdom. This time, a vineyard fills that role. There are people who are the initial participants in the Kingdom. These are vine-growers (or tenant farmers.) There is the stand-in for God, in this case the owner (or “lord”) of the vineyard.
The vineyard makes its produce and the owner sends for his share. The tenant farmers decide that they will not give it—so they refuse with violence. The violence escalates alongside their refusals until there are no servants left to mistreat. At this point, they kill the son of the vineyard owner, expecting that this will allow them to claim the inheritance that should be his.
Jesus points out that the result will not be what the vine-growers expect. Instead, their violent refusals to recognize the vineyard owner’s authority will be met with violence, and the vineyard will go others. Jesus was teaching that the religious leaders would not be permitted to hold the Kingdom of God hostage to their personal preferences and profits. Keep in mind, this is told in response to the religious response to cleansing the Temple: Jesus made a direct assault on religion-for-profit. Now he makes a didactic (teaching) follow-up on the principle. Verse 19 tells us that his target audience understood him exactly. And they were not pleased.
When we look at this for practical application, two things jump out. First, the vineyard belongs to God. Whatever our preferences, the Lord God sets the rules. Not us. We are commanded to bear fruit and to bear the fruit that God calls for from our lives. Too often, we spend our time and effort setting our definitions of fruitfulness and living up to those. That’s not our place.
Second, we want to define our reward for our work. But the inheritance is not ours, nor are the fruits of our labors. Instead, we rely on the gracious lord of the vineyard to provide what we need. Our work is constant—like tending a vineyard—but our reward is in pleasing the master, not in claiming our own rewards.
There are two follow-on questions that Jesus deals with in Luke 20. They are the typical response of the theologically curious when we don’t want to deal with the implications of what we are being taught. The questions on taxes and marriage? They point to obvious answers but ultimately are side-points to the real issue.
Don’t get so bogged down on the nerd side that you miss the main point.