Who Says? (3)
And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!” Then He looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written…?” Luke 20.16, 17
In both Matthew’s and Mark’s account of the parable of the vineyard, it’s clear that the religious leaders who challenged Jesus’ authority were the object of this brief story. And they knew it (v. 19). Jesus intended to portray them, not as they would have liked – as the venerable religious authorities they supposed themselves to be – but as they truly were – self-interested law-breakers.
A man goes on a journey and lets out his vineyard to some tenants, who mistreat and murder his servants when they come looking for their master’s share of the harvest. The tenant farmers even go so far as to kill the owner’s son, believing they could seize the vineyard. Jesus promised that the vineyard owner would come and destroy those worthless stewards of his property and give the management of it to others.
The leaders and people were shocked. “Certainly not!” They knew what this was about; they understood the point Jesus was making. They were horrified that He should think – and more importantly, that He should voice it before all the people – that something like God’s wrath might come down on them! Who does He think He is?
The religious leaders understood that Jesus was exposing the hypocrisy, pragmatism, and self-interest which characterized their exercise of authority. They claimed to be the keepers of the Law of God! Jesus was only confronting them with the fact that the sanctions of God’s Law apply to all people, even those who deluded themselves into thinking that somehow they were above that Law.
Certainly, Jesus knew that the primary concern of these religious leaders was to preserve their place of deference and privilege, and that they would do whatever was necessary to secure that, the plain teaching of God’s Law notwithstanding (cf. Jn. 11.47, 48). His parable struck directly at the heart of their vanity, smugness, and presumptuousness. It exposed their wrong reasoning and established the authority of Jesus to see into their hearts and pronounce judgment.
Exposing the Lie
The apostle Paul says that everyone who rejects the authority of God, and chooses to follow their own best ideas about life and how to live it, has become trapped in what he called “the lie” (Rom. 1.25). Having refused to acknowledge God and seek Him, they turn from the only Source of truth and embark on a joyride of lies. They go around believing they can think and do as they please in life, making whatever decisions and choices that suit them, without giving any consideration to God or His Law. A day is coming when the Lie will be exposed for what it is, and men will rue forever the fact that they preferred their own self-deceit to the truth of God (Jms. 2.12).
It’s not a matter of consensus. God is true. All who reject Him are liars, and liars must not be allowed to lead others into their death-spiral path.
In the parable of the vineyard, Jesus exposed the vain and foolish thinking of the religious leaders of the day in front of the very people whose support they required to maintain their place of authority. He was saying to them in effect, “You are kidding yourself if you think you can flout the Law of God and use the gifts and opportunities He gives you for your personal aggrandizement. A day is coming when you will have to give an account for such an abuse of privilege and authority.”
No one had ever said that to these religious leaders before – especially not in front of the people. These leaders had become so accustomed to their routine abuse of authority and practice of the lie that they assumed the status quo would continue in perpetuity. Until Jesus. Until Jesus came along, pulled back the curtain of their traditions, and exposed the sham that underlay their claims to authority.
Jesus’ variation of “Who says?” in this case had the effect of jarring His opponents into looking at their situation in a new light. Whether they agreed with Him or not – and subsequent history indicates that many of them finally did (cf. Acts 6.1-7) – at least they were served notice that the ground on which they were standing was not as unshakeable as they thought.
And they knew it. And so did the people who heard Jesus.
Challenging the lie today
People do this all the time. Taking their stand on faulty premises and assumptions, they make wild, unfounded claims about their ability to determine what’s best for their lives. They spout opinions, condemn those who disagree with them, champion libertine causes and practices, accumulate wealth, look down on others, and, in general, do whatever they think they must to shore-up their vain self-image and bolster their status in the eyes of others.
With all the love we can muster, we need to challenge the presumed autonomy with which our friends, neighbors, and co-workers deny God and flout His holy and righteous and good Law. They need us to be ready with some form of the question, “Who says?”, to challenge their settled assumptions and self-serving ways. We don’t have to be angry or condemning. We’re only trying to get people to think a little more deeply about matters they’ve probably never considered before, and to entertain the possibility, if only for the moment, that there might be Someone higher than themselves Whose authority trumps theirs at every point.
So by asking our friends “How can you be so sure?” or “What if there is a God Who has something to say about such things?” or “How did you come to believe such a silly notion?” or “Did you come to this view yourself, or are you just parroting someone else?” – by asking such questions we might incite a trembling beneath their feet or open a fissure in their false worldview to allow the light of truth to find a way into their souls.
1. How do we know that the Law of God applies to all people, that is, that all people have a sensitivity to the Law and its demands (Rom. 2.14, 15)?
2. How did Jesus summarize the Law of God in Matthew 22.34-40? How can you use this summary to help people assess their own relationship to the Law?
3. You need to make sure the Law of God is the underlying premise of your worldview. What can you do to make sure that’s the case?
Next steps – Preparation: Review the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20.1-17). In what specific ways can you see that our society has set this Law aside and is becoming a law unto itself?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.