This is post #8 of a series entitled RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ. We hope you’ll enjoy this series of 27 podcasts and blogs that focuses a bit deeper on the first five days of what we now call Holy Week. Using the Gospel text found in Matthew 21 through 25, we explore the major differences between organized religion and true relationship with Christ. Practical sessions that give us Jesus’ view of spirituality as compared to the religiousness found in so many people today. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.
Today’s Lectio Divina: “Here’s another story. (Jesus said) Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits. The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.’ But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. ‘This is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all for ourselves.’ They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him. Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?” “He’ll kill them—a rotten bunch, and good riddance,” they answered. “Then he’ll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it’s time.” Jesus said, “Right—and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles: ‘The stone the masons threw out is now the cornerstone. This is God’s work; we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!’ This is the way it is with you. God’s Kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a Kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed.” When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put Him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held Him to be a prophet of God. Matthew 21: 33-46 (MsgB)
Religious Leaders = Greedy Farmhands.
The comparison Jesus makes here, equating the religious leaders of His day with the greedy, murdering farmhands of his parable, quite honestly, should shake us to the core. Especially if you are a long-time religious leader, like I am.
I’ve been actively involved in pastoral ministry for over 30 years. I’ve been a church-goer for most of my 67 years (at the time of this writing). Whether I like it or not, I’m a religious leader. Which, in turn, means that I need to read Jesus’ story through the eyes of one who is being addressed by the Master.
Now please, don’t mistake my intentions here. I’m not saying that all religious leaders are greedy, murdering farmhands. Heaven forbid.
But, what I am saying is that Jesus sure seems to be spending a great majority of his time and energy over the last week of His life, pointing His finger at men who have been given the high responsibility of shepherding God’s flock, only to be found out as frauds, looking out more for themselves and their high position than actually caring for souls.
Now, some of you might be saying, “Marty, let up here…these Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ time are obviously evil men who have no understanding of what God is up to. Don’t compare these ancient Jewish leaders, who helped to crucify Jesus, with church leadership today!”
But, here’s the rub.
As I see it, leadership is leadership.
Whether it be first-century Israel or twenty-first-century America, it’s vitally important for those of us who say we are leaders today to pay close attention to the way Jesus looks at the leadership of His day.
And from everything I’m reading thus far in Matthew’s Gospel, I’m starting to get a strong sensation that Jesus just might have a bone or two to pick with our style of leadership as well.
Could it be that our mode of leadership resembles that of these power-hungry elders from Jesus’ day? Are we as equally closed-minded when it comes to receiving new faces or new messages God is sending our way? Do we reject God’s advances, pushing away fresh new ideas, using the convenient excuse of “sorry…we just don’t do things that way” as a way of maintaining our prestige or power? Or, how about this? Have our religious traditions in our churches become more important to us than God’s in-breaking presence?
Good things to ask for those of us who live around the top of the leadership pyramid. Don’t you think?
My Prayer: Jesus, it’s painfully obvious that You saw ugly things in the lives of those leaders around You. Instead of being leaders who were God’s humble servants, You saw these men as self-centered, close-minded hypocrites who would rather commit illegal acts to protect their position rather than being open and honest, desiring the best for God’s people. It’s an ugly picture, Jesus, and it makes me shudder. So, with the help of the Holy Spirit, may we humble ourselves, hear your warnings today, and respond rightly. For Your Name’s sake. Amen
My Questions to Ponder: When was the last time I was presented with a new idea or a fresh, new approach to doing ministry? What was my response? Was I closed-minded, shutting myself off from newcomers and new ideas, or was I open to exploring new things, curious about how God might be working in our midst? Do I generally cut off people who bring new ideas, believing them to be a threat to my traditions, or am I always open and humble in my leadership style, welcoming others to sit at the table?
So, what are you hearing from Jesus as we take this journey into the first 5 Days of Holy Week?
Religion or Relationship: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ.
A 27-session Lenten blog series from Matthew’s Holy Week Gospel.
Throughout the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday), you and I will take a deeper look at Matthew 21-25. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use.
If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!