Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost | Matthew 21:33-46
The Crush of Words
They were not good for much, these old men, not any more, but you could not get them to believe it. They graced the temple with their leadership, in their minds, and they had the robes to prove it.
Here sat this nobody of a man, a carpenter who hailed from Nazareth by way of Capernaum, and he had the gall to sit in the temple and teach. Worst of all, he was popular. The crowds ate it up, as though anyone needed another reason to despise the fellow.
They might have let him get away with it, have his moment of glory and move on. There was always somebody that the nitwitted public was ready to follow, somebody with a strong voice and smooth promises that these fools were ready to hear. It never lasted long, and when the latest song fell so far off the charts that the crowd couldn’t even remember how to hum it, the priests would still be there. Yes, they might have just waited him out, let him have his few minutes of fame, but then he went and started telling stories.
It’s bad enough to be made the butt of a joke, but it is even worse to be made the point of a story. People might laugh at the joke for a while, but eventually they would suspect it was a little mean hearted, maybe even an untrue exaggeration. A story, though? Long after people forget how a joke went, they still remember a story.
Jesus told the story of a man who left a winery under the care and management of a crack team of businessmen. They stole his profits, killed his auditors, and even murdered the heir to his fortune in a botched attempt at a violent corporate takeover. We don’t know whether this winery was in Sicily, but we’re familiar with the kind of criminals this bunch of businessmen turned out to be. While the story was told to point out the self serving nature of the temple leaders, the tale also points to a truth about our world. We are not all honest; some say none of us are. Some of us are even willing to use violence to satisfy our greed, and some of us disguise our violence as an unintended side effect of a free market.
Words were what Jesus used to dismantle the establishment. Stories are what Jesus used to stick it to the man, to question authority.
That’s one thing we can take from this passage—the power of words. Jesus was in a position to stand up and lead a revolution that even the Romans would have respected. Instead, he sat down and told stories to the crowd. The revolution he started was in their minds, and it couldn’t be put down by Roman soldiers or riot police.
In Isaiah we find a fresh version of the promise the Lord makes with the faithful:
…my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children’s children, says the Lord, from now on and forever. —Isaiah 59:21, NRSV
Words. They separate us from the other animals. Words form our human inheritance, inform our civilization, serve to bring the presence of God into our lives. Words are powerful, as useful as cornerstones and as dangerous as a falling rock.
Photos by Granny™