You have made it through all the way until the last week of Jesus’ life. Didn’t that just fly by? It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of the first Gospel on our challenge. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, what we call Palm Sunday, begins our Holy Week. It was like any other week in Jesus’ life, except it ends with the culmination of his death and ultimate resurrection. Holy Week simply means the last week of Jesus’ life, and this Scripture marks the beginning of that week.
Palm Sunday in Matthew is the most curious of any of the Gospels. Do you notice how many animals the Gospel writer has Jesus ride into Jerusalem? It is hard enough to keep one donkey on track, much less a donkey and a colt of a donkey. Don’t get hung up on the detail, the point is that a king riding into a city in peace would be riding a donkey and not a war horse. Look at Zechariah 9:9-10 where you see a king who is ushering peace into the world would be riding a donkey. Instead of riding to conquer, Jesus rode to bring in peace.
Admittedly that peace is short lived as Jesus is shown driving out the money changers from the temple. This verse is used more than any other as a proof text that Jesus was willing to use force, even violence. It is a terrible example as a proof text. The driving out of the money changers, even with whips, was not an act of violence. The whips were used to drive out the animals that were making the temple unclean. The overturning of the tables was done in an effort to highlight the strange straying from the temple as a place of worship to a place of commerce. Jesus was not thinking, now I get to give people of the 21st century a justification for the use of force. If we are that desperate to justify force, then maybe we should pay more attention to Jesus saying we should turn the other cheek or forgive 70×7.
The parable of the wicked tenants is not one of my favorites, but it does show very clearly the purpose of Jesus coming into this world. It also presents to the leaders of the temple of that day a very real harbinger of God taking away their place of privilege and giving it to those who would follow Jesus. The moral of the parable is that God sent his servants, who would be the prophets and specifically John the Baptist, to let people know that the kingdom of God is at hand and that they are to be gathering fruit. We are to be bringing people to a closer relationship with Jesus, that is gathering fruit.
But instead of responding to those who came before Jesus, we turned our backs on the prophets, and killed John the Baptist. So God our Father decided to send His only Son, His beloved, Jesus, and we treated Jesus the same way that we treated those who came before him. We tortured him and killed him on a cross. Ultimately we thought we could save ourselves, that’s what the words of tenants refer to when they say: “let us kill him and get his inheritance” as if the works of our hands could in any way win us a place before God.
So God decided that the tenants who had originally been caretakers of his vineyard would be replaced by those who were loyal to him. Many see this as the expansion of the Gospel from the exclusive emphasis on the people of Israel to now include gentiles and those who do not come from the Jewish background. The end result is that now all who are loyal to Jesus Christ are able to claim the kingdom as they work for the Father.
This desire to try to live our lives as independent beings has been tested throughout history. Before WWII humanism was taking root to the point where people thought that maybe, just maybe, we had reached the point where humans were able to live alongside each other and figure things out on their own. The outbreak of the war drove many people to desperation not only because of the massive scale of deaths, but because of their disillusionment in the ability of humans to make things right by themselves.
Currently there is a wave of secular humanism that is searching for community and meaning among gatherings of people focused on, well, people. A book by a good friend of mine who is a leading voice in secular humanism is entitled Grace Without God. The title is disturbing, but it also reflects the belief in many “noners”, people who have no religious affiliation, that people are able to achieve meaning and community even without the presence of the belief in God. It does remind me of the tenants, who may not be wicked in the 21st century, but certainly are desperately searching for meaning in a society that fails to provide them meaning and a church that institutionally has systematically disillusioned. I hope that people are able to plug into churches and meet people who are disciples of Jesus Christ without an agenda, and so turn their hearts back to a living Jesus.
One word about this painting. It is by Giotto and it is significantly earlier than the Baroque period which was when Caravaggio was around. I love the bottom right hand corner where you see people literally disrobing in order to place their clothes in the pathway of Jesus. The little people in the trees are also pretty entertaining. All of this artwork has been impactful for me in different times in my life. I remember seeing this fresco in Padova when I was studying in Rome and my calling to the ministry seemed to come back to life even stronger. The Lord uses many different mediums to call us back to Him.