On Tuesday morning the pastors of Lutheran Saints in Ministry gather in Fairborn Ohio to discuss the texts for Sunday.

These are the contributions that are brought to the table.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What will you deliver? On Matthew 21:33-46

When someone asks: “What would Jesus do, remind them that freaking out and flipping tables is a viable option. — Ann Onymous 

Scholars note that this parable Jesus tells, this parable about the tenant farmers who refuse to yield the landowner his proper tribute, must be understood by remembering the place in which it was told. Had Jesus told it a year before, standing next to a vineyard in Galilee, it might have been a condemnation of absentee landownership and seems to have been used as such in New Testament times in other sources. 
But, as it is told in the temple where the presence of God is admitted by everyone, it has a different meaning. Note how I worded that last sentence. Yes, everyone would have affirmed that God was indeed in the temple and therefore very much present. God is therefore not the problem. 
No, told here, the parable is a condemnation of the specific tenant farmers. Jesus says so outright. (Matt 21:43) But the reuse and retooling of the parable is instructive to understanding it.  
Peasant life is not pleasant. They got to do the work, supply the seed, do the harvesting, and then suddenly they had to deliver a fairly hefty share thereof to the owner. If the owner was to be one in a foreign place then their tribute to the owner was probably paid in money and not crop, which meant they were also at the mercy of the market and the rather complicated ways that taxes were levied when produce was transported and sold. 
The tenant farmer who works my land shows up on April 1st — yes, April 1st — with check for land rent. After that, I am no longer involved with what happens in the field. He plants and harvests. He takes the risks inherent in farming, but at the end of the year, it is all his to take to the elevator and sell. Present or absent, I figure into his decisions only at the margins. 
The tenants in Jesus’ parable, on the other hand, have to be very conscious of the owner at every step of the process. They depend on the owner to let them the land and its vines again next year, so every decision has consequences for their future on the land. A bad harvest is not only a present disaster but might have even worse repercussions in the year to come when not only is there bad harvest but no land to grow the next harvest on. My farmer merely has to pay me the going land rent rate and see to it that he is not rude or offensive to me and I will very likely rent him the field again next year. 
If one was to be an absentee landlord, this parable would indeed be a warning. They do not treat your servants badly when they can see your house and know you are close by to enforce your will and protect your servants. They would also know whether you are alive or dead. If your son shows up they will not think that he is now the owner and kill him in their frustration, thinking that they will be able to perpetuate their use of the land by those actions. 
O.K., so that is crazy thinking but maybe it is not all that crazy as labor unrest and peasant revolts through the centuries are plenty. But, if this parable was once a warning against absentee landownership it is not that here. Here the tenants, the temple authorities, the priest and elders (21:23) are working literally under nose of the owner. As priests not only do they work around the owner, no, they approach the owner in their rituals to ask his favor and they do so daily. 
The interchange between Jesus and the authorities suggests a few troubling scenarios: 
1) Maybe they did not realize that Jesus was the Son and that John had been a prophet. The crowds seem to believe but the authorities were not accustomed to follow the crowd, they were accustomed to telling the crowd what to believe. 
2) Maybe they realized it but were denying it actively as 21:25-26 and 21:46 hint at. In Matthew, among the synoptic Gospels, all faith authorities are in enmity to Jesus and are actively trying to destroy him. (12:4, 27:42-43 – grammar suggests they suspect that Jesus might be who he says he is) 
If one rejects the authority of the son, then one rejects the authority of the household from which he comes and therefore one rebells against the authority of the landowner, the father, the God whose presence these priests were meant to serve.
3) Maybe they were functional atheists. That is to say, maybe they did read the Pentateuch and gathered for lectionary Torah study on the third day of the week at the third hour but their actions, lives, and decisions somehow did not countenance the content of that Torah. Maybe that is why Jesus charges them, along with the Pharisees as Hypocrites. As a result they act like the ones that knowingly reject Jesus and deserve the same treatment as outlined in option 2) above. 
I know what you are thinking: “How could they? They were priests! They did the ritual thing every day. How can they be atheists?” When holy things are handled every day they either become so part of the priest who handles them as to let that one live holy or they become entirely external but ordinary and meaningless to the priest. I believe Urban Holmes observed this about Christian Clergy. Unfortunately, the former tend to be mystics and strange people whom we tend to avoid while the latter pour themselves into worldly pursuit of organizational success and they tend to achieve it. They become the “successful” pastors because they administer, not because they pray. (Actually, St. John of the Cross observed that, Gerald May does as well) If you think about it, it is a matter of succumbing to the second Temptation of Jesus (Matt 4:5-6) as an attempt to put God into the position to reveal irrefutably to the burned-out priest that, Yes, the Holy of Holies is not empty and neither is the Sacrament just bread and vine. Clergy burnout is real today and probably had its own form in last Temple as well. 
If you think about it, possibility 3) pretty much leads to a desperate version of 2) when the physical reality you hope to perpetuate is challenged. You turn over a few tables, throw some coins, and drive off a few sheep and the senior priest is on his way over really, really quickly, and even if he understands or even sympathizes with your reasoning, he will and cannot get himself to condone your actions much less join you in them. The mystic might though, which is why they tend not to get elected to Synod councils or Sanhedrin alike. 
Possibility 3) also would cause the blindness that is possibility 1). Think about it this way: “Leaving the light on keeps the monsters away at night.” “How do you know that?” “Well, I have left my light on for years now and I am fine.” “What would happen if you turned them off?” “I couldn't do that. It would be suicide. I have never slept without the lights on. That is why I am safe from the monsters.” (Kreeft) What if John the Baptist comes and tells you to turn off the lights, so to speak? You would have to conclude that he is either nuts or that he does not have your best interest at heart and therefore is no prophet. If the job and the book is all that there is anything else is automatically not recognized and therefore not acceptable, even the healing of the blind and the lame, even the repentance and return of the sinners. (21:14-15, 32)
So, in a certain way, all these are connected and related in an unfortunate way. What is a peasant to do? As I said before: any good peasant pays constant mind to the landowner to whom he owes the field or vineyard that sustains him. What does that landowner want? A well kept vineyard that only uses organic fertilizer, natural insect management techniques, non GMO vines, fish and amphibian friendly herbicides, a vineyard that has a low carbon footprint and is open to the public as an educational center to sustainable agriculture with daily tours, an onsite bistro, and a lot of curb appeal? Well . . . Yes . . . And? . . . And? . . .Well . . . How about a good harvest of grapes? 
God has a purpose for human life and an expected outcome to Faith. Yet, what is that purpose: “The LORD said to Abram: Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. 2  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will find blessing in you.” Add your own but do it cautiously.

So, I know, I have walked off the well beaten and traditional path of Matthew 21 just a bit. I do so consciously. I am not sure that the conscious, intentional rejection that Matthew seems to imply is the biggest problem modern church attendees face. There is a creeping loss of a sense of purpose that is much more subtle and easier to fall into. Once lost, what will faith look like and how hard will we fight to make it stay like we have shaped it? The Temptations of Jesus could be a tool to evaluate our life and actions. If we find ourselves mirrored in the tempter’s suggestions there will not be any fruit from the vineyard for God or us. What fruit is your faith bearing and is that the fruit that our God hoped for. What will you deliver? 

The Greek Text for Matt 21:33-46

Greek Study Matthew 21:33-46

v33 οικοδεσποτης (ης ου) "a land manager" – steward/manager
οστις "who"  Matthew favors this indefinite pronoun, so "who", as landowners in general, crop their land, here planted a vineyard.
φραγμον (ος) "[he put] a wall [around]" - likely a "hedge".
πυργον (ος) "watchtower" - for security.
εξεδετο (εκδιδωμι) aor. "rented" - possibly on a sharecropping basis, but also, given that the vineyard would take a few years to come into full production, given care of the vineyard and paid.
εεωργοις (ος) dat. "to some farmers" - Dative of indirect object.
απεδημησεν (αποδημεω) aor. "went away on a journey" - until the vineyard came into production.
των καρπων (ος) "the harvest [time]" – literally ‘of fruit’.
γεωργους (ος) "farmers" – experienced people who actually work the land. 
ο καιρος των καρπων "harvest time" - the time of the fruits. "
ηγγισεν (εγγιζω) aor. "approached" - came near/palpable. This is the same word Jesus uses in Mark to announce the coming of the Kingdom.
λαβειν (λαμβανω) inf. "to collect" - infinitive is adverbial, expressing purpose; possibly, "to obtain his share of the grapes".

v35 λαβοντες (λαμβανω) aor. part. "[the tenants] seized" an attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verbs "beat", "killed" and "stoned".
εδειραν (δερω) aor. "they beat" – actually “flayed” but a softer meaning is intended to display ascending acts of violence meaning that the stoning was a lethal stoning.

παλιν adv. "again [he sent]" at the next harvest (the following year!)
των προωτων adj. "[more] than the first" an ablative, of comparison.
ωσαυτως adv. "likewise" - expressing manner.

v37 υστερον comp. adj. "last of all" - finally, - a superlative so expressing the last in a series.
λεγων (λεγω) pres. part. saying. Likekly to himself, so "he thought to himself."
εντραπησονται (εντρεπω) fut. pas. "they will respect" - act respectfully toward ...

v38 ιδοντες (ειδον) aor. part. " [the tenants] having seen temporal "But when they saw..."
ο κληρονομος (ος) "the heir" αποκτεινωμεν (αποκτεινω) aor. subj. "let's kill [him] a hortatory subjunctive.
την κληρονομιαν (α) "[his] inheritance" - "His property", TEV.

v39 λαβοντες (λαμβανω) aor. part. "they took him" – violently seized, 
εξεβαλον (εκβαλλω) aor. "threw him" - opposite to Mark who has killed and then threw out, this is a possible alignment to the order of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. 
του αϑμπελωνος (ων ωνος) gen. "[out] of the vineyard" Ablative, expressing separation, clarified by the preposition εξω "out ".
v40 του αμπελωνος (ων ωνος) gen. "[the owner] of the vineyard" the language is identical to that in the earlier parable about the unfair pay –from a common written source?
τοις γεωργοις εκεινοις dat. "[what will he do] to those tenants?".

v41 κακους κακως "[he will bring] those wretches to a wretched [end]" - evil badly [he will destroy]. The adjective, κακους, "evil, bad", is used as a noun, and placed beside the adverb, κακως, "fiercely", which modifies the verb απολεσει "will destroy", serves as a play on words; "he will bring those bad men to a bad end", meaning total destruction.
λεγουσιν (λεγω) pres. "they replied" - Historic present.
αλλοις γεωργοις dat. "[he will rent the vineyard] to other tenants".
οιτινες (οστις) rel. ind. pro. "who" - as in v33.
αποδωσουσιν (αποδιδωμι) fut. "will give" - will give back. 

v42 λιθον (ος) acc. "the stone"
απεδοκιμασαν (αποδοκιμαζω) aor. "rejected" - completely as useless.
κεφαλην γωνιας "the capstone / becomes the cornerstone" It is not actually known whether this stone is a capstone, binding the walls together, or the corner/foundation stone. Whatever, the builders rejected it as unsuitable.

v43 δια τουτο. "therefore" causal construction;  on account of the fact.
του θεου (ος) gen. "[the kingdom] of God" - Only on four occasions does Matthew drop his usual "kingdom of heaven", and replace it with “of God”.  Both titles take the same meaning, but the way the kingdom is described as a present reality which αρθησεται, "will be taken away", from "you" seems the point. 
αρθησεται (αιρω) fut. pas. "will be taken away" - this verb, and "given" are passive and may be classed as divine passives; God does the taking away and the giving.
εθνει (ος) dat. "to a people" - "people" remains undefined, but at the least a people under God, a community of disciples, possibly the "church".
ποιουντι (ποιεω) dat. pres. part. "who will produce" - doing = producing.
τους καρπους (ος) "[its] fruit" The word is used to tie in with the parable where the tenants did not provide the fruit from the vineyard to the owner and are cast from the vineyard. It is essential to note that this fruit is not just an initial response to the gospel, but the totality of life in the kingdom. 

v44 ο πεσων (πιπτω) part. "he who falls" - the one falling.
συνθλασθησεται (συνθλαω) fut. pas. "will be broken to pieces" – crushed/shattered.
λικμησει (λικμαω) fut. "will be crushed" – winnowed/ground to dust.

v45 οι αρχιερεις και οιϑ Φαρισαιοι "the chief priests and the Pharisees" Matthew now associates members of the Sadducees with that of the Pharisees, sworn enemies.

v46 ζητουντες (ζητεω) part. "they looked for a way" κρατησαι (κρατεω) aor. inf. "to arrest [him]".

εφοβηθησαν (φοβεω) aor. pas. "they were afraid of" τους οχλους (ος) gen. "the crowd” a direct reference to the intended audience of last week’s parable.

The Readings for October 8th, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

1Let me sing for my beloved
  my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
  on a very fertile hill.
2He dug it and cleared it of stones,
  and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
  and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
  but it yielded wild grapes.

3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
  and people of Judah,
judge between me
  and my vineyard.
4What more was there to do for my vineyard
  that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
  why did it yield wild grapes?

5And now I will tell you
  what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
  and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
  and it shall be trampled down.
6I will make it a waste;
  it shall not be pruned or hoed,
  and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
  that they rain no rain upon it.

7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
  is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
  are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
  but saw bloodshed;
  but heard a cry!

Psalm: Psalm 80:7-15

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

[Paul writes:] 4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46

[Jesus said to the people:] 33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “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.”
42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: 
‘The stone that the builders rejected
  has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
  and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.