A Stone Rejected: context

laborers-in-the-field-11thcentbyzantineMatthew 21:33–43 33 “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. 34 When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. 35 But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. 36 Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ 39 They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” 41 They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’? 43 Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

44 [The one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.]” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them.

Context. In this section of the Gospel according to Matthew we encounter Jesus in the midst of an on-going dialogue with the chief priests and elders. These folk are not happy with Jesus as just the day before he had upset the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple area. When Jesus returned to the Temple the following day, the leaders of Judaism are there with questions about the authority with which Jesus takes such bold and prophetic actions (and interrupts the commerce of the Temple).

Last week’s gospel (parable of the Two Sons) occurs in the shadow of Jesus’ question to the leaders about the bold and prophetic ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus asks “by what authority” did John baptize? Was it of heavenly or earthly origin? As mentioned in a previous commentary the leaders are revealed by their lack of an answer and in their reasoning for their silence. They do not answer because they do not want the on-lookers to question their authority. Their silence is not to advance or retard the Kingdom of God, but to preserve the status quo. They will not change their status, their minds, or their hearts.

Embedded in the prophetic actions and calls of John and Jesus is exactly that – a call for change. The call for a change of heart comes from a heavenly authority. In their silence, the leaders abdicate not only their authority from “the chair of Moses,” but also their own entrance in to the Kingdom. Boring (Matthew, New Interpreters Commentary) suggests this outline for this dialogue. Our gospel (The Lord’s Vineyard) follows immediately upon the parable of the Two Sons and it in the same setting with the same leaders/crowd attending.

A Jesus’ response: a question (21:24-27)
B Three parables
The Two Sons (21:28-32)
The Lord’s Vineyard (21:33-46)
The Great Supper (22:1-14)
B’ Three controversy stories
Taxes to the Emperor (22:15-22)
The Resurrection (22:23-33)
The Great Commandment (22:34-40)
A’ Jesus’ question (22:41-46)

One should also note, as Boring has pointed out, that there is a strong structural parallel between the parables of the “Two Sons” and that of “The Lord’s Vineyard.”

The Two Sons Common element The Lord’s Vineyard
21:28a Jesus’ introductory word 21:33a
21:28b–30 The parable 21:33b–39
21:31a Jesus’ question 21:40
21:31b Their self-incriminating response 21:41
21:31c Jesus’ concluding pronouncement of judgment 21:42–43 [44]


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