Jesus tells the story of the owner of the vineyard to show that his listeners, members of the religious establishment of his time, have missed the point. The story is breathtakingly clear. Those who “get it” have to do away with him. They mock him, deride him and finally kill him.
Who has given Jesus the power to cleanse the temple? Because it’s hard for us to understand life in Jesus’ time, it’s also hard to understand just how fundamental his attack on the moneysellers is. By forgiving sins, Jesus is blasting away at the religious leaders of the day, members of the priestly class.
When I was a kid growing up in the Willamette Valley, local teenagers and migrant laborers would go out together into the strawberry fields to help with the harvest. This parable, with its setting in the vineyard, describes the emotions of us workers—we wanted a fair wage for a fair day’s work.
When Reinhold Niebuhr wrote glowingly in his diary about small churches in rural communities he admitted that some are “small and mean.” He had in mind the church I was serving. Although it has been nearly 20 years, my memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday. For three years I went to bed every night with knots in my stomach.
At the heart of the salvation doctrine is the proclamation that our lives and our deaths are in God’s hand; we are loved of God not by our own merit but by God’s gracious initiative toward us. We need not spend our lives in good works in order to be saved but only in grateful response to being so loved.
The pharoah ordered his Eqyptian supervisors to make the Israelites’ lives “bitter with hard service.” Yet the more the Israelites were oppressed, “the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”
"Fear,” writes Karl Barth, “is the anticipation of a supposedly certain defeat.” Fear describes Joseph’s brothers, who fear and hate their brother’s favored status. Fear strikes the hearts of Jesus’ disciples when they see him walking toward them on the water.