WE continue our Feast series titled The Clash. Our Talk today, Talk 3, is titled Greed vs. Generosity– about the clash between the greed of the Pharisees and Sadducees and the generosity of Jesus.
We tend to be greedy because we think and act like we own our Life.
Let’s start with something really basic:
I’ll answer by sharing how I read the Bible.
Every morning, before I read, I start by making the Sign of the Cross. Sometimes, I imagine the Father touching my forehead, the Son touching my heart, and the Holy Spirit enveloping me and embracing me.
And then I pray,
It’s my date with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
Here’s my point:
God must speak to me about my here and now, in my present situation. He knows what I’m going through. He knows the burdens I carry in my heart. He knows my joys and tears. I’m His beloved, and I expect Him to speak to me.
The Missing Step
But there’s an important step many persons miss: Before you personalize, you must contextualize.
What does that mean? For some reason, God did not ask an angel to ship the Bible to our mailbox. The Bible didn’t drop from
Heaven on a silver platter.
God used human authors to write the Bible. Hundreds of them.
And God didn’t zap these authors into a half-conscious trance, control their hand or dictate every word. God didn’t bypass the author’s idiosyncrasies, personality, intelligence, culture, and history.
Meaning? I too should not bypass the author. I cannot just pluck out a Bible verse and read it with my modern eyes. Before I personalize the Bible, I must enter into the world of the human biblical author. Bottomline,
If you notice, this is what you’ve been learning at The Feast—contextualizing before personalizing. Yes, it’s harder work. It’s so easy just to read a few verses that can make us feel good.
But I promise you—if you do the hard work of understanding the original intent of the author, the spiritual fruits you’ll bear are all worth it…
Two Benefits of Respecting the Human Biblical Author
First, if you contextualize, you’ll avoid the extreme errors of Bible interpretation. Hey, it’s super easy to be deceived. For 2000+ years, many religious persons sincerely believed that God told them to do crazy things, like abandon their wife and kids, or marry 18 wives, or kill themselves in mass suicide, or massacre a million persons— because God told them to do so in the Bible.
Second, if you contextualize before you personalize, you’ll get God’s fuller message for your life.
Like the parable we’re about to read today. It’s actually mind-blowing, if you understand the context. Are you ready?
An Infographic of The Bible
Welcome to our empowering exploration of Matthew.
Today, I’d like to preach the message: Once again, the common mistake we want to avoid is reading a parable as a stand-alone story. Matthew did not write a parable– he wrote a book. The meaning of the parable is tied up to the meaning of the entire book.
For example, this parable is connected to everything that transpired the day before: Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and announced Himself as the new King. As the new King, He entered into the Temple like He owned the place and caused mayhem to protest against the corruption of its religious leaders. Jesus then curses the fig tree—a symbol of Israel—because Israel was no longer bearing the fruit that God wanted.
There’s something more. This parable we’re about to read is so special, it’s like an infographic of the entire storyline of the Bible. (After we read it, you’ll get what I mean.)
Let’s read the parable. You’ll notice there are three parts…
Jesus said, “Now listen to another story. (Because this is a set of three parables. We read the first one last week—the story of two sons—and we’ll read the third one next week.)
Ancient Jews knew their Bible by heart. So, His listeners knew Jesus was borrowing from a beautiful love poem from the Prophet Isaiah:
God is the landowner. And He loves His vineyard, Israel.
Let’s personalize this… God pours His eternal love into your life. He blesses you, sets you up, provides for you. In my life, I think about how He gave me everything I need to flourish—my physical body, my family, my talents— and even all the trials I went through— shaped me into who I am today.
Sadly, many times, we think we’re not blessed. That we lack blessings. But that’s because We take for granted what we have and think we own them.
But in truth, we are more blessed than we think we are. Can you declare that? Put your hands on your chest and proclaim: Sadly, the parable turns ugly…
Jesus continues the story:
This is horrible. How could they do such an atrocious thing? Murdering the messengers and the son of the landowner? What were they thinking?
If you read this parable in context, it’s very obvious who Jesus was referring to.
God was the landowner, Israel was the vineyard, and these bad tenants were the religious leaders who were bent on killing Jesus. Actually, He was predicting His death again through this parable.
Jesus was also referring to the storyline of the entire Bible, where Israel rejected God’s prophets like Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…
May I go deeper? Let’s personalize.
Enter Your Surrendered State
How could these tenants do such a despicable, cruel thing?
One reason: The tenants thought they were owners.
In their mind, they said to themselves, “This land is ours. This harvest is ours. We worked for it. How dare the landowner get a share? The gall of this guy…” And this made them kill.
Look around you. Do you see violence? Do you see abuse and war and drugs and crime? This is the biggest reason: We think we own our life. We hallucinate that we’re owners.
May I add? This is also the reason people have so much stress. And worry. And fear. We think we’re alone in this thing called Life. We think we answer to no one.
This was the unforgettable lesson I learned when I had Coronavirus Disease (COVID). When I stared at death’s door and surrendered everything to God, returning my life to His hands, that was when i experienced overwhelming peace. Even to this day, when I go back into my “surrendered place”, all my fears and worries, and burdens disappear. Because in that “surrendered state”, I don’t own anything. I don’t own my life, my family, my material things. I don’t even own my problems.
Shout this out:
“I belong to God.” Let’s continue the parable…
Here’s how the story ends:
Jump to verse 45, and it says,
I love this little detail Matthew included. I can imagine the Pharisees and Sadducees listening and nodding to Jesus when He talked about the bad guys– only to realize, some 28 seconds later, that they were the bad guys.
I can almost see their red faces. “Hey, wait a minute… What?
We’re the bad tenant?”
Let me focus on verse 43: Jesus said in the new
Kingdom, the tenants will be replaced.
And that’s what King Jesus did.
If you go to the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, the last three verses, Jesus assigned new tenants for the vineyard. He said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NLT)
Friend, you’re the new tenant.
As His new tenant, you have been given authority by God.
First, the authority to represent Him. You are God’s face in this world. When people see you, will they get an idea of who God is? Will they get a glimpse of His love?
Second, the authority to care for His vineyard, the Church. To stop thinking only of yourself and start living for others.
Once again, being selfless is an impossible task. On my own, I cannot do it. I’m embarrassed to say this, but in my life, how many times have I been tempted to be those greedy, corrupt tenants? How many times have I been tempted to think my life was mine?
But I’m grateful that this Son, who was murdered on a Cross, gave Himself to me. So that dying and rising, He gave me the supernatural power to do what I cannot do on my own. And that’s why we make the Sign of the Cross. Because it is only through this Cross we can actually be good tenants.
Every day, keep on declaring the truth, “I belong to God.”