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Monday, September 29, 2008


Lexegete ™ | Year A | Matthew

October 5, 2008 (Lectionary 27)

Complementary Series

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-15 (14, 15)
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46
Color: Green

Semicontinuous Series

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19 (8)
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

1a. CONTEXT - Matthew 21:33-46

The parable of the "Tenants" is the second in a series of three
parables (see Pentecost 19/Proper 21) dealing with the transfer of the
kingdom of God to "new" occupants. Jesus tell this story in the temple,
between a parable of two sons (21:28-32) and the marriage feast
(22:1-14). Jesus addresses the same temple audience, focusing his
allegory/parable on the chief priests and elders of the people. The first
parable in the series was aimed at the response to John's baptism, and this
one turns on the "wicked" tenants' response to the householder's servants
and son.
The parable uses remarkably traditional, if transparent, images
including the vineyard, delivering of fruit in due season, and the rejected
stone becoming a capstone. These images are favorite Old Testament
figures found in th psalms (see appointed Psalm 80, first lesson Isaiah
5:1-7, and Psalm 118:22f) in which God is a planter of the vineyard,
commonly understood as a figure for Israel. The first lesson trades on
this image and magnifies the judgment coming upon the vineyard for its
lack of righteousness and justice. Both psalmist and prophet depict the
Lord removing the protective hedge from the vineyard, and Isaiah adds
drought and neglect to signify judgment.

Indeed, as Luke T. Johnson interprets Matthew's use of the Old
Testament, "if Mark can fairly be read as an apocalyptic narrative,
Matthew's shaping of the story of Jesus owes most to the symbols of the
rabbinic tradition" (Johnson, p. 177).

Whereas the Lukan version of this parable stresses the role of
the temple, and the corruption collapsing upon itself, Matthew seems to
suggest that it is the occupancy of the kingdom itself which is at stake.
Jesus, according to Matthew, plays the role of judge, thoroughly. He
pronounces sentence (21: 43) upon the recommendation of the opponents
who serve ironically as jury (21:41).

1b. TEXT - Matthew 21:33-46


33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants [1] to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone; [2]
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

* 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” [1]

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

* - [1] 21:44 Some manuscripts omit verse 44

1. 21:34 Greek - bondservants; also verses 35, 36
2. 21:42 Greek - the head of the corner

33αλλην παραβολην ακουσατε. ανθρωπος ην οικοδεσποτης οστις εφυτευσεν αμπελωνα και φραγμον αυτω περιεθηκεν και ωρυξεν εν αυτω ληνον και ωκοδομησεν πυργον, και εξεδετο αυτον γεωργοις, και απεδημησεν. 34οτε δε ηγγισεν ο καιρος των καρπων, απεστειλεν τους δουλους αυτου προς τους γεωργους λαβειν τους καρπους αυτου. 35και λαβοντες οι γεωργοι τους δουλους αυτου ον μεν εδειραν, ον δε απεκτειναν, ον δε ελιθοβολησαν. 36παλιν απεστειλεν αλλους δουλους πλειονας των πρωτων, και εποιησαν αυτοις ωσαυτως. 37υστερον δε απεστειλεν προς αυτους τον υιον αυτου λεγων, εντραπησονται τον υιον μου. 38οι δε γεωργοι ιδοντες τον υιον ειπον εν εαυτοις, ουτος εστιν ο κληρονομος: δευτε αποκτεινωμεν αυτον και σχωμεν την κληρονομιαν αυτου. 39και λαβοντες αυτον εξεβαλον εξω του αμπελωνος και απεκτειναν. 40οταν ουν ελθη ο κυριος του αμπελωνος, τι ποιησει τοις γεωργοις εκεινοις; 41λεγουσιν αυτω, κακους κακως απολεσει αυτους, και τον αμπελωνα εκδωσεται αλλοις γεωργοις, οιτινες αποδωσουσιν αυτω τους καρπους εν τοις καιροις αυτων. 42λεγει αυτοις ο ιησους, ουδεποτε ανεγνωτε εν ταις γραφαις, λιθον ον απεδοκιμασαν οι οικοδομουντες ουτος εγενηθη εις κεφαλην γωνιας: παρα κυριου εγενετο αυτη, και εστιν θαυμαστη εν οφθαλμοις ημων; 43δια τουτο λεγω υμιν οτι αρθησεται αφ υμων η βασιλεια του θεου και δοθησεται εθνει ποιουντι τους καρπους αυτης. 44[και ο πεσων επι τον λιθον τουτον συνθλασθησεται: εφ ον δ αν πεση λικμησει αυτον.] 45και ακουσαντες οι αρχιερεις και οι φαρισαιοι τας παραβολας αυτου εγνωσαν οτι περι αυτων λεγει: 46και ζητουντες αυτον κρατησαι εφοβηθησαν τους οχλους, επει εις προφητην αυτον ειχον.
© 1979 Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition , Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;

2. ANALYSIS: Matthew 21: 33-46

Matthew 21:33 - "Householder" is the best translation, for "Landowner"
fails to convey the literary allusion to the temple and an appropriate
connection with Jesus' choice of "house" ("O oikos mou oikos" - 21:13).
Note also that the householder, who manages a vineyard, is the setting for
the parable in chapter 20:1-16.

21:35 - Use of "stoning" as a means of death carries the implication of
religious apostacy.

21:37 - The phrase "my son" echoes the voice from heaven identifying
Jesus, "This is my son, with whom I am well pleased" (3:17 and 17:5),
appearing in the baptismal scene and again at the time of transfiguration.

21:40 - This is the question Jesus puts to the audience of chief priests and
elders ironically serving the function of prosecution.

21:41 - "legousin" serves as a reminder of the narrator's interest in
telling episodes occasionally using the historical "present" tense,
emphasizing the function of the parable as a figure for Jesus to make a
point and less as an unlimited allegory. Jesus involves the listeners in the
story with the questions, too. For Matthew, this is a story told with
tremendous rhetorical impact on the "implied reader" of the story.

Kakous kakos apolesei autous - the opponents of Jesus who answer the
question employ this idiom which is best captured in the NEB, "He will
bring those bad men to a bad end," although it need not be so gender
specific. Interpreters should be aware of the irony of the answer given by
the opponents, its indictment and self-sentencing.

21:42 - Jesus continues to follow upon the opponents' apparent lack of
self-awareness, now offering a converse example of scripture's (and
God's) playful historic irony.

21:43 - The word choice for a nation (ethnei) suggests the outsider motif
and most likely a Gentile opportunity.

3. STRATEGY: Matthew 21: 33-46

When preaching upon a parable with transparent images and
especially one which has parallels (Luke 20:9-19 appears the Fifth Sunday
in Lent--LBW), it is best to follow Krister Stendahl's advice to "seek the
analogy of the text." Even though we can see Jesus here as prosecuting
attorney, convicting his opponents for lack of trust in the prophets, for
misunderstanding the Law of God, and for blindness to the messiah, Jesus
adds to the criticism. He insinuates that they do not know scripture either

Possible sermons may deal with the nature of the kingdom, the need
to listen to the prophets, the blindness in "lazy" Christianity, or the
"cheap" grace concerns of Bonhoeffer. Lutherans, in my opinion, used to
overdue the Bonhoeffer quotations in the legitimate need to undermine
"cheap grace."

Since we no longer have the Christian-Jew and Pharisaic-Jew
seam in the community, nor the need to preach in defense of the Gentile
mission, we must find a suitable context for this parable in the modern
day. We may use this parable as it is addressed intra-murally to the
community of faithful, commandment-abiding citizens of the kingdom.
Judgment stories such as this one will "warn those already in the church
that their decision for the kingdom requires constant renewal." (Johnson ,
p. 183) Hence, a baptismal reminder may be in order.

Matthew's twist on this parable is to put the words of judgment on
the lips of the opponents themselves. It is as if Jesus wants to see a
transformation so badly among his opponents that he elicits the prophetic
warning in their own words. If they hear themselves say the words, will
they understand the significance? Will they hear it then? Matthew's
gospel is full of examples in which inconsistancies and hypocrisy
distinguishes followers from opponents.

The Matthean Jesus is so irritated by hypocrisy and a lifestyle
inconsistent with one's proclamation, that the very occupation of the
kingdom of God will be altered because of it

Certainly we can find numerous examples of Christian hypocrisy in
mouthing the words of forgiveness in our liturgy, in claiming inclusivity
for our fellowship, in our confirmation vows to grow in grace, and in the
very promises of baptism.

Robert Jenson reflected on the nature of the kingdom in light of
baptism in his book on sacramental theology (VISIBLE WORDS, p. 14). Here
he lifts the reversal of prevailing kingdom-logic in the church's preaching
on the baptismal "kingdom." He writes: "If the church is described as a
class-free political zone, baptism makes it possible to say to those yet
outside: 'The curse of your poverty (or) riches will be broken,' and to those
inside: 'It is too late for submission (or) exploitation: you no longer have
anything to gain from it.'"

In the same connection, Jenson believed that "social justice"
preaching in the sixties was "ineffective" because it was often thinly
veiled moralism. "Preachers said to white congregations: 'You ought to
love your black neighbors, because God loves you.' They should have said:
'It's too late for racial fears and hates--at least in your cases. In the
kingdom to which your baptism destines you, these outsiders will be your
priests and moral examples; and you might as well start getting used to
it.'" (Jenson, pp. 147ff.)

There are lots of opportunities for Christians to have the words
correct and miss the tune completely. In the fall, many congregations
become involved in activities to feed the hungry and walk for the causes of
our relief agencies. For Jesus, there is a "must" connection between our
celebration of the Eucharist and feeding, and the same consistency must be
stated explicitly about the criteria for the rule of God.

For some imaginative preachers, there is an environmental word to
be said from this set of texts. The opponents seek to seize ownership of
the vineyard and exercise an unjust stewardship. The dishonesty of false
ownership can have deadly results. While greed is not the main problem of
the text, unfaithfulness to right tenancy is.

Finally, there is an opportunity to speak about inclusivity in the
kingdom. The parables follow one on top of the other to identify the
disbelief and the blindness of "pharisaism." At the same time, the
parables leave open the opportunity for repentence and for those from
other nations to become faithful tenants. The key is knowing who owns
the vineyard. God is the one who never gives up on rejected stones. The
ones conventionally rejected become basic building blocks and capstones
in the renewed temple.


THEOLOGICAL ART. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.

Jenson, Robert W. VISIBLE WORDS. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.

Johnson, Luke T. WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1986.

Kingsbury, Jack Dean. MATTHEW AS STORY. Philadelphia: Fortress Press,

Minear, Paul S. MATTHEW: THE TEACHER'S GOSPEL. New York: Pilgrim
Press, 1982.


The hymn of the day for Pentecost 20 is THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN
EVERY AGE (LBW #433) which has adequate social gospel and inclusive

temple stones, and YOU SERVANTS OF GOD (LBW # 252) would be an

For Eucharistic hymns, take a look at LORD, WHO THE NIGHT YOU
"Italian Hymn")which draws an excellent picture of the kingship of Christ.

Exegete: The Rev. John R. Spangler, Jr. is Executive Assistant to the President for Communication and Planning for the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA. He was formerly Communicator for the New England Synod in the ELCA. He serves on the ELCA’s Advisory Committee for the Lutheran Magazine. His wife, the Rev. Dr. Maria Erling, teaches the History of Christianity in North America and Global Mission at the Seminary. He and Maria have two daughters, Marta and Johanna.

Marta Erling Spangler, 22, of Gettysburg, PA, and formerly of Nashua, N.H., will serve in East Jerusalem and the West Bank with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), a companion relationship of the New England Synod. As one of six young adults headed to the Middle East, Erling Spangler will work with the Lutheran school in Beit Sahur, a village near Bethlehem, one of four schools operated by the ELCJHL.




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