Monday, March 29, 2010

Luke 20:1-26

1 One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 "Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?"
3 He replied, "I will also ask you a question. Tell me, 4 John's baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?"
5 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' 6 But if we say, 'Of human origin,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet."
7 So they answered, "We don't know where it was from."
8 Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
9 He went on to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13 "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.'
14 "But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir,' they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
"What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others."
When the people heard this, they said, "God forbid!"
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, "Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
" 'The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone'?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but anyone on whom it falls will be crushed."
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 "Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?"
"Caesar's," they replied.
25 He said to them, "Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Points of Interest:

• ‘together with the elders’—the elders were members of the Jewish aristocracy who were neither priests nor teachers of the law (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels 201).

• ‘by what authority you are doing these things?’—‘these things’ to which they refer are the throwing out of the merchants in yesterday’s passage. The Temple was the jurisdiction of the chief priests, and they certainly didn’t give Jesus permission to get rid of the temple merchants—the temple merchants were their idea. So, to them it’s clear that Jesus is acting without any authority.

• ‘I will also ask you a question’—before answering where he gets his authority, he demonstrates that he does indeed have authority; he tells them that they have to answer his question before he’ll answer theirs, and they do.

• ‘John's baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?’—I think Jesus is essentially saying, ‘You can figure out the answer to your own question.’ His authority comes from the same place as John’s: if John was sent by God, so is Jesus; if John was simply acting on his own, so is Jesus.

• ‘We don't know where it was from’—this is both a bald-faced lie and entirely accurate. It’s a lie, because it’s not as if they don’t have an opinion: if they were to be honest, they would say that John’s authority was human. So, by saying they don’t know, they’re lying to avoid saying something that they know will be unpopular. But, by giving this answer, they’re ironically saying something that’s doubly true:
1. First of all, they really don’t know where John came from, because they don’t even bother trying to figure it out. They don’t even think about the truth of the matter, instead thinking only about the political implications of their possible answers;
2. Secondly, if they were to give their answer, they’d be wrong. They really don’t know where John was from, because they think he came from humans but he really came from heaven.

• ‘Neither will I tell you’—Jesus sees through their avoidance; it’s not that they can’t answer but that they won’t. Since they refuse to answer him, he refuses to answer them as well. Their unwillingness to recognize John leads to an inability to see Jesus for who he is.

• ‘He went on to tell the people this parable’—while he won’t plainly answer their question, he does tell a story that gives his answer. Earlier (8:10), Jesus said that he was willing to explain himself to those who truly listen to him, ‘but to others I speak in parables.’

• ‘A man planted a vineyard’—Jesus is using a story from Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7) as the basis for his own story. Isaiah’s story ends like this:
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress (Isaiah 5:7).
This vineyard to whom Jesus is referring is Israel, or Judah, and God is the builder and owner of that vineyard. Jesus adds a new set of characters—the tenants—to Isaiah’s story. The chief priests, teachers, and elders are the tenants.

• ‘he sent a servant’—another new set of characters: John and the other prophets.

• ‘so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard’—they’re sent to collect the rent, but the tenants have forgotten that they are renters and have begun to think of the vineyard as their own. They send the owner’s representatives away (or in some cases kill them) as if they are beggars or thieves.

• ‘I will send my son, whom I love’—this is an echo of God the Father’s words about Jesus at Jesus’ baptism (3:22). It’s the answer to the priests’ question regarding Jesus’ authority. Jesus is God’s Son, sent by him, with his authority. It’s the priests, teachers, and elders who are usurping their authority: they are pretending that what belongs to God—the temple, and even more importantly the people who worship at the temple—belongs to them.

• ‘The stone the builders rejected’—this is Psalm 118:22. It’s the same psalm from which the people were singing, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,’ in yesterday’s passage. It’s a song of thanks for God’s rescue. However, it seems that this rescuer is not immediately recognized. The cornerstone of a building is the first stone laid in the foundation, the stone upon which all of the other stones is built. In the metaphor Jesus quotes, one set of builders rejects a stone as altogether unsuitable, but another builder uses that same stone as the cornerstone. God will build something completely new—a Savior, a rescuer—out of what the chief priests, teachers, and elders throw out.
Ever since chapter 9, Jesus has insisted that he must go to Jerusalem to be rejected and killed, but he hasn’t given very much explanation as to why. Here is at least part of the answer. Jesus is going to prove definitively that God sees things differently from the people of this world. In the next few days, all of the worldly leaders—secular and religious, Jewish and non-Jewish—will agree to get rid of Jesus. But what they throw out as garbage is what God most values: God will pick Jesus out of the garbage, clean him up, and display him as his greatest treasure.

• ‘Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’—the chief priests and teachers think that they’ve come up with a trap for Jesus similar to the one he set for them about John. If Jesus says they should pay taxes, he would not only be pro-tax—and every politician knows how deadly that is to a political career—but pro-Roman (the Romans were unpopular foreign rulers—it might be something like being pro-American in much of present-day Iraq). But if he speaks against taxes, he’d be considered a dangerous revolutionary by the Romans.

• ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's’—Jesus looks at a coin and says, ‘Well, it seems to have Caesar’s name and picture on it; so, I guess it must belong to him. We should give it back.’ Even though it’s pro-tax, it’s logic that’s hard to argue with. Jesus answers their question forthrightly, but in a way that completely avoids making any political statements, either for or against Rome. I think he’s able to do so because money doesn’t have a hold on him (‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’ (12:15). It doesn’t really matter to him how much money Caesar gets, and it doesn’t need to matter to anyone else, either: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life . . . For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them’ (12:22,30). They could give Caesar every single coin that has his name on it without worrying, because God is faithful to provide for them.
What is very important to Jesus is that God gets what belongs to him. Going back to Jesus’ story, the owner deserves his fruit. Jesus knows that the coins belong to Caesar because his picture is on them. Thus, whatever bears God’s picture belongs to him. By this argument, it’s people who belong to God: in the story of creation, God says, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness . . . ‘(Genesis 1:26). Just like the tenants in the story are holding back what belongs to the vineyard owner, the chief priests are holding back what belongs to God: by crowding the other nations out of the temple and cheating Jews who need animals for sacrifice, the chief priests are robbing the people of the chance to worship and robbing God of their worship. Even worse, they’re robbing God of these people’s worship in order to gain money for themselves.

Taking it home:

For you and your family: The tenants in the vineyard start off just wanting to hold back a little fruit from the owner, but they end up killing his son. I think greed often starts small, but grows quickly out of control. Pray that God would protect you from greed. Ask God to point out any small entrance points for greed in your life, and ask him to give you the strength to refuse to give in to it. Ask God to forgive you for any ways you’ve already given in.

For your friends: Pray that God would remove any barriers to your friends seeing or believing truth—whether it be truth about themselves, about God, or about something else. Also pray that the truth, when they do see it and embrace it, would be of great benefit in their lives. Particularly ask God to give them the boldness to accept truths that might be difficult for them to admit.

For our city: The chief priests and the teachers had influential positions, which they could use to do a lot of good for people. Many of them probably started out in their public careers with the best intentions. However, over time, their priorities had shifted away from the good of the people and toward maintaining their own power. It seems to be all too common a temptation for people in powerful public service positions. Pray for our politicians, that they would be strengthened against this temptation and that they would be blessed with public-spiritedness in their decision-making.