Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Save the Date! The King's Wedding!

Here we go!

"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.  

Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.'  But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.  

Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.'  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.

He asked, 'How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?'  The man was speechless.      

Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'  For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:1-14)

This parable comes right after the two parables about the two sons and the landowner. Jesus first addresses His authority with the parable of the two sons. At first, the one son will not heed his father's wishes, but then changes his mind, and goes about his father's business. The second son says the right thing--that he will be obedient--but then he isn't.

Then Jesus ups the ante by talking of a landowner, who leases his property to some tenants who, because they are farmers, seem to be the men for the job. But the tenants refuse to allow the landowner to collect what is rightfully his: the harvest. He sends his son, thinking he will be received respectfully; instead the tenants kill him, trying to steal his inheritance.

Now Jesus goes one step further, and shows upon whom the Kingdom of God will be built. The Kingdom of God is an invitation. No one is forced in; no one is bullied in. No one is shamed in; no one is cajoled in. You are simply invited. Everyone knows what a wedding banquet was like in this 1st century culture! Think of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle. Dancing, singing, drinking, fine food and joyful fellowship all around, and all because two people are uniting in marriage. Their union is a visible reminder of how God sees us: He wants us to join Him in a lovely union, creature to Creator, with singing, dancing, and a sense of having been invited to something deeply special.

So, this king has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out the invitation earlier. Now, he sends his servants out to let the invitees know all is ready and to head on down.

But, the original invitees refuse to come. Why? Do they see the occasion as special? Do they respect the king enough to want to be a part of what he is doing? Do they value the king's son enough to make their appearance and support him? They knew this day would come; yet, they refuse.

Perhaps the invitees are not fully aware of how ready the banquet truly is. So, the king sends out some more servants with instructions to be very specific about how ready is ready: The meat is a-steamin' and the ice is clinking in the glasses as the drinks are being poured. Someday is here. Come on down!

But the invitees have more pressing matters--one goes out to his field and one goes over to his place of business.

The day is here already? Yeah, I know the king's son would show up one day, and ask his dad for a wedding party, but not today! I am too busy! Wish him well, but I just can't be bothered.

Then it gets ugly. The rest of the group are not just busy; they harbor murder in their hearts. Why? Their hatred of the king and his son has lain under the surface for a while, and now it comes boiling up in murderous rage.

The king's son, huh? Who does he think he is? What, we're supposed to stop everything and run gushing to him? Hey, we got lives. We got obligations. This king's son expects way too much from us if he thinks that he's so important that we will just drop everything and show up. Besides, you say you are the king's servants...How do we know that? Any losers could just show up in rented costumes and start throwing their weight around, acting as if they're special 'cause they're on some kind of mission. Sorry, boys, but such arrogance deserves a take-down.

Next thing you know, the servants are killed.

The king then takes action. He sends in his army and gives them a right royal rubbing. Their city fares no better.

Everything the invitees had invested in, their fields, their businesses and their arrogance (they were so sure of themselves) is gone. He destroys "those murderers." The king will not be mocked. It was one thing to refuse the invitation. It is another thing entirely to kill the representatives of the king. Simple refusal, while regrettable, is not a capital offense. Refusal based on anger and jealousy that leads to murder, THAT justifies the king's wrath.

So, what to do? The king sends his servants out to gather new invitees... Anyone and everyone is invited. The servants went and brought in the "good and the bad" and the hall echoes with laughter. The king comes in to see his new guests. He notices one person, not attired correctly.

This would imply that the good and the bad managed to go home first, and out of respect to the king and his son, got into their Sunday best. They didn't just show up. They were shocked no doubt to be invited to such a glorious affair. Their shock soon converted to respectful behavior and they arrived, attired in humility and joy.

One guy, though, slipped in. Was he invited like everyone else? Well, he seems to know about the banquet. He shows no respect, gives no honor to the son nor his father, the king.

He doesn't respond to the king's question of how he got in. He is "speechless."

Does this guy think that because the invitation is given far and wide, that it is no big deal? In other words, because the king extended it to "those people"--the sinners, the cast-aways, the failures--why should dressing up matter? It's, well, those people!

He shows no respect for the king, the son, and his guests.

The Kingdom of God is filled with those whom the King invites, and they deserve respect. Not because of who they are, but because of the One to whom they belong.

These new guests walked in humbly into the banquet. They had enough love in their hearts to be considerate of the king who called them, and the son whose wedding they celebrate.

The king already displayed his wrath on those who murdered his servants; he also displays his wrath on those who may accept his invitation, but don't show him or his son the respect they rightly deserve. Just like the son in the parable who mouths his obedience and then doesn't do it, this guy accepted the invitation and then acts as if it is no big deal.

Obviously, the King is God and He extends His invitation to all. He will not tolerate disrespect nor disobedience. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus, jolly and happy to everyone, regardless of what they do or think. This parable reminded the Pharisees and all of us that God is merciful and just.

His mercy swings open the doors to His kingdom, and He invites all near and far to enter and rejoice in Him and His Son.

His justice closes the door on those who reject Him and on those who consider His provision as insignificant.

Jesus, as He tells these parables, is nearing the cross. The banquet His Father will host will serve His Son's body and blood as the meal. Jesus is warning His listeners not to take any of this lightly.

He is telling us, as He nears His return, the same thing: the doors are swinging wide open to all that hear Him and accept His offering of forgiveness and grace. The doors will close to those who chose to ignore or belittle His invitation.

Monday, January 2, 2023

The Grapes of Wrath: The Landowner and His Son

Jesus clearly loved storytelling.  He knew that those who really were seeking would be curious enough to hang out and listen to what He had to say.  Those who were looking for an excuse to dismiss Him or find some phrase or teaching to condemn Him, would listen just long enough and leave.  

Parables are a kind of "sheep versus goats" kind of moment.  So, here we go!

Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ (Matt. 21:33-40)

Jesus' authority is under fire by the religious leaders. He uses two parables to explore His authority and Who He is.

The first one concerns a father of two sons. (I covered that in a previous blog.)

This second one concerns a vineyard. The landowner, who can do what he pleases with his land, decides to plant a vineyard. Jesus earlier talked of new wine into new wine skins. He will use the wine of Passover to announce the arrival of a new covenant, which is His blood, soon to be shed upon the cross. So, using a vineyard as a place of encounter is not surprising.

The landowner plants the vineyard and then in order to protect his investment, he builds a wall around it. He sets up a watchtower, from which the vineyard can be guarded. It also provides a place to stay.

Now, he could have stayed, but he placed his investment in the hands of the "farmers." He didn't rent it to just anybody; he rented the vineyard to people who knew what they were doing. It would have been irresponsible to do otherwise: The vineyard would have suffered from their ignorance. They would have then feared the return of the owner.

So, from the outside looking in, the landowner hired the right folks for the job. Right?

The gloves come off the day he sends his servants to collect the fruit. Uh-oh.

Remember: He has the right to send anyone whom he chooses to collect his fruit from his vineyard.

The servants come in the name of the landowner to collect what is rightfully his.

The welcome is anything but. The reception is shocking: The servants are met with violence and death.

Why such brutality? Perhaps the tenants were not doing their job. They had the knowledge yes, but they were disobedient. They probably had very little to show for their efforts. The vineyard was not yielding fruit the way it had when the owner left it to them.

What have the tenants been doing? Going out and leaving the vineyard unattended and in disarray? Is the vineyard full of weeds? Are the grapes no longer robust and the wine is lackluster to say the least? Whatever the state of the vineyard was, they are guarding a secret: They have been disobedient tenants.

They would have welcomed the servants and shown them around the vineyard with a sense of satisfaction that it looks much the same as it did when the landowner left, if all had been in order.

Something is wrong.

The landowner, by all rights, could have come storming in and demanded justice for his three servants. But he decided to give the tenants a second chance. This is exceedingly generous.

The next group of servants he sent were treated just as abominably.

The landowner decides to do a curious thing. He will send his son. He believes the tenants will respect his son.

Interesting. Perhaps the angry tenants were responding to these men who showed up in the landowner's name out of mistrust and skepticism.

Who are you and what are you doing here? Right. You represent the landowner. OK, pal, and I represent the Queen of England. You're servants. How can I trust what you say? Where are your credentials? No, your word is not good enough. We were called to take care of this place and we're not handing over the goods to just anyone. The landowner trusts us and gave us dominion over this here vineyard. Yeah, we know it's not ours, but the landowner has been away for awhile. So, we're kind of the owners now, if you think about it.  But if you think we're just gonna hand over the fruit we've labored over, you got another thing comin'. Did I mention Levi here is a blackbelt?

The landowner believes that his son will be seen by the tenants as trustworthy enough to collect what is rightfully his father's.

Wrong. Not only do they seek to kill him right off, but they want to take his inheritance. They want the vineyard all to themselves. If there's no son, then there's no one to leave the vineyard to...The landowner will be forced to leave it in their hands. They don't kill the son in the vineyard. They take him somewhere else. 

How thoughtful.

Hey!  Get a load of that son! All smiles, thinking his daddy will protect him. Ha. He comes in his own name, and thinks we'll just fall into line and hand everything over. Right. But we can't kill him here. We'll drag him out to the back forty and let him have it there. No one will see him. No one will find him. He ain't gonna come back, is he? When the landowner finally shows up--if he ever does--we'll just say we don't know what happened to Sonny Boy. We'll say he never came here. A bunch of  no-nothings  claimed to come in your name, Mr. Landowner, but we made short work of those losers. We'll stick to our story: We did what we did for your sake, Mr. Landowner. 

It was all for you, Sir.

So, at the parable's close, Jesus asks His audience that when the landowner returns, what should be the fate of these tenants? Their response is very telling: 

"'He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,' they replied, 'and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.'" 

Reasonable. In other words, their utter irresponsibility takes away their privilege of being tenants, and others shall come in and share in the harvest.

Interesting. We need to give the religious leaders credit for their insight. But intellectual prowess is not what the Kingdom of God is built upon. It is built upon Jesus and His work. Jesus immediately takes their response and focuses the discussion back to its origin: By what authority does Jesus do what He is doing?

He responds: “Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

In other words, the very ones who should know the Christ, because of their vast knowledge of the Word of God, are the very ones who have missed the Son. Sad, but so true: knowledge is not enough. 

A sincere heart that seeks God earnestly is what He rewards.

Now, at this point, the leaders could have engaged in a conversation to pursue truth and see what this Jesus was all about. But, if you are sincere about the truth, you have to be willing to pursue it to where it leads. The truth sought by a seeking heart will lead to Jesus, His work and His divinely appointed authority.

The leaders' reaction illustrates their hearts: "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet."

Whoa. They were not interested in pursuing whether or not Jesus' claims were true. They weren't interested in the Kingdom of God. They wanted him out of the way. Period. They wanted to arrest Him and whisk Him off to some jail, where He would languish and not be heard from ever again.

But the parable speaks a deeper truth: Jesus is claiming to be God's Son. How do the tenants react to the landowner's son? Death.

The leaders' hearts will continue to harden to the point where they will ask the Romans for the death of the Son. The end of Jesus' earthy ministry was coming, and sadly these leaders will, out of jealousy and hatred, be involved in ending it.

But, the Good News is: Fruit will come. The Kingdom of God will come. Salvation in His name will come.

The Bad News: The very Temple that the leaders so cherish will be torn down stone by stone by the Romans who earlier had helped the leaders destroy Jesus. The Romans will turn on the Jews and many of them will be thrown to their deaths from the Temple ramparts in 70 AD.

The Kingdom of God is built on His Son as the foundation, with His sacrifice to be the cornerstone. The vineyard will have new tenants whose hearts will open to truth, to the Truth.

Blessings on you, dear readers, and I wish you a very Happy New Year!  

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