the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 27 Canon Jim Irvine
...they realized that he was speaking about them

 

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. Matthew 21:45

 

Parables speak to some with clarity and to others not at all.

In any case they provide a story and everyone enjoys a good story.

We tell stories, all of us, several times a day, and the ones we are most fond of, we retell as long as there is a receptive audience. Our stories differ from the type of story Jesus told his disciples, however. Our stories have place and time, and our characters have names. Jesusí stories, on the other hand, lack the specifics that satisfy us and we have to look elsewhere for the purpose of the tale.

The parable of the unjust tenants, the Gospel appointed for today, is another of Jesusí stories. There are no specifics allowing us to locate the story in space or time. We do not know where the vineyard is, and we do not know who the tenants are. The pieces of the story fit together and make a whole, but each one listening cannot help but hear something different.

Unlike the stories we tell one another, stories about others, Jesusí stories invariably drew his listeners into the unfolding drama. They become stories about us.

Unlike the stories we tell one another, where the characters are identified and where we stand in support beside the protagonist (or in rare instances the antagonist), Jesusí stories cast us in the various roles contained in the unfolding drama of words.

They become us. And the fit is uncomfortable.

The effect of the stories is cumulative. That is, each story, independent of the others, nonetheless builds insight upon insight. In the end, the picture is very clear.

"When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them." Matthew 21:45. The chief priests and the Pharisees discovered their own indictment and it angered them.

It angers us no less.

Jesus does not accuse his listeners but allows them to identify with the characters in such a way as they see themselves and the story envelops them. It seems an odd way to teach, admonish and correct. But it was highly effective.

Jesus was speaking about them, they realized, and they stood convicted. They were not the protagonist. Theirs was not the honour and glory associated with the hero. Rather, much to their chagrin, they saw themselves cast in the role of antagonist and they were indignant. And hands wrung in characteristic cunning.

Their indignation placed Jesus in jeopardy and on the road to Golgotha. It does still, today. Our failure to recognize our own indignation distances us from the redemptive expression of Jesus on the Cross. Self-righteous, we do not need Jesus and his Cross. That was the attitude of the chief priests and Pharisees. And, self-righteous, we deny Jesusí redemptive gestures of love and forgiveness in the lives of others we perceive unworthy of Godís grace. And our anger crucifies Jesus.

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. Matthew 21:45

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999