Saturday, 4 October 2014

Bearing Sin to Change the Human Heart (Matt 21:33-46)
The tenth commandment warning against covetousness takes adjudicating good and evil from outward observance to the state of the heart. (Exod 20:17) I might covet your new phone but never betray the fact to anyone, even myself. Indeed, to hide my covetousness from myself I may well deny my attraction to the phone altogether. In the same way, the miser can hide their miserliness from even themselves with an outward generosity. People came to see that outward observance alone is not an absolute guide, despite what Jesus said in another context. (1) Jesus follows this trajectory when he locates sin not just in committing adultery but in the lustful heart. (Matt 5:27-28) Eventually this new insight, in tandem with the brute fact of Israel's inability to keep the precepts contained in the Sinai covenant, led some to look forward to a new covenant where the human heart itself would be made true to the law. (Jer 31:31-34) This would be God's doing.  God's freedom cannot be constrained by human failure.

Jesus' parable of the Vineyard and the Tenants is of a piece with the above reflection. The parable in the Gospel of Mark has Jesus himself warn of the destruction of the murderous tenants. For all the continuities between the parable and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the good news of Jesus remains in tension with this parable. Jesus the Son is murdered, true, but the result of his murder is not the destruction of sinners, but their salvation. The risen Jesus comes with a message of repentance and forgiveness, the living embodiment of the forbearance of God, evident in the cross, but now revealed in the Risen One.  Jesus' death and resurrection is for the salvation of all. It is interesting to note that Matthew has changed Mark's version of the parable. (Mk 12:1-12 cf Matt 21:33-46) Mark has Jesus answer his own question. What will the landowner do to the tenants? Destroy them. In Matthew Jesus asks the question, but his opponents answer him. The vengeful god resides in the logic of Jesus' opponents, not in Jesus.

1. In Matt 7:15-20 Jesus seems to suggest that judgment is a little easier than this - after all, fruit is easy to see. But notice that he is speaking of the same issue, wolves in sheep's clothing. Fruit there is, but more subtle than mere observance of law.

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