Jesus’ parables are offensive, perhaps too offensive and even embarrassing. I had often found them overcritical of humanity, especially the Jewish leadership, and therefore unhelpful in understanding others. Humanity just didn’t seem to be as bad as Jesus had portrayed them. For instance, Jesus’ parable about The Tenants:
- "There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? He will bring those wretches to a wretched end." (Matthew 21:33-40)
Jesus was indicting the religious elite, promising to “bring those wretches to a wretched end.” Were they really as evil as Jesus alleged? The Pharisees had been widely regarded as pious, even by Jesus’ disciples. However, He accused them of killing all of the messengers – the Prophets of Israel – whom the Master, seeking what had been due to Him, had sent.
What a brutal indictment! But was it so? It certainly seems to be! The writer of the Book of Chronicles explained why Israel and Judah had been destroyed and exiled:
- But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:16)
However, it was more than just a matter of scoffing. God has explained His anger and frustration with His people Israel to Jeremiah:
- "In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction. Your sword [Israel] has devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.” (Jeremiah 2:30)
In anguish, Jesus referred to the same:
- "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)
Could God’s chosen and pious ones have committed such heinous acts? Evidently! However, we don’t see such evil in others, at least, not in our own kind. Jeremiah didn’t and therefore could not believe that Israel was worthy of God’s harsh indictments. However, as part of his spiritual training, God put this challenge to Jeremiah:
- "Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” (Jeremiah 5:1)
Although Jeremiah thought that this might be true of the riff-raff – those who didn’t know the law - he was convinced that he would find many righteous among the elites and his own priestly caste. However, God proved him wrong. Instead, these elites, even his own family, wanted to kill him!
How shocking to see the ugly reality beneath the polished veneer! And we see the same today! Our neighbors, who had greeted us every day with a broad smile, are now exterminating Christians at alarming rates, and if not exterminating them, then depriving them of jobs and livelihoods.
Jesus, wanting to be very clear with the elites in his audience, then brought His lesson home:
- "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone the builders [you leaders] rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.' Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this [messianic] stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. (Mat. 21:42-46)
Israel would reject their promised Messiah – their Savior – as many Hebrew texts had warned. They would kill Him as they had their own Prophets. However, not now! Too many eyes were watching. Too many would protest.
Today, we are shocked by the extent of the hatred and persecution of Christians. How can it be? Even against a people who do not retaliate and whose purpose is to love their neighbor? Where did it all come from? Perhaps this hatred of the light and love of the darkness was always there (John 3:19-20), hidden away until the forces of evil sensed weakness and “victory.”
Jesus’ parables had once been an embarrassment to me as God’s words had been to Jeremiah. However, they now seem all the more relevant, accurate, and timely.