by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Soooo...you could go with talking about the 10 commandments and how they were created for harmonious community and thou shall not kill is a pretty important part of community harmony. But I went down the rabbit hole on the chief priests and elders, so this is what I am bringing to the sermonizing game today.
The gospel reading is a continuation of the conversation about power and authority from last week’s reading from Matthew. He is speaking to chief priests and elders; people who are used to having people listen to them because they are people with power and authority. But this power and authority is by virtue of title, of age, of education, of family background or some of the other ways one becomes a leader in the temple. The way of power for them is traditional. Now here is this young upstart, who as far as they are concerned hasn’t earned ANYTHING and doesn’t have a title or family or education they know of to lean on, and he is directly contradicting them, doing things they can’t do, and, in this last parable, he is calling them murderers and disobeyers of God and telling them he will crush them. I don’t think I need to draw the parallels, but there are many.
But, it is likely that some of these people to whom Jesus is talking are members of the Sanhedrin, the court that decides matters from petty crimes to putting people to death. The Sanhedrin had the authority to put to death elders who challenged/disagreed with them. They were used to having the ultimate authority when it came to theological matters. They had the authority to put Jesus to death (which they eventually do), but couldn’t use it because they were afraid the people might rebel.
For so long, the people had just gone along with what the chief priests and scribes said according to a friend of mine who is a professor of Judaism, complaining about priests back then was like complaining about your congressperson – everyone complained, nobody did much about it. Their power was absolute. Their authority was complete. This is how Empire functions. There is a part of us that actively feeds empire, bowing down to it with vigor. Bust most of us just go about our day-to-day lives giving in to empire by just going along with it. By just letting things happen.
Jesus is the breaker of Empire. He came along to flatten social and political hierarchies from the song his mother sings to him when she is pregnant to his first reading in the temple to these parables from Matthew. The priests and chiefs were terrified because they were losing their power and authority to this kid from nowhere. They were jealous of his powers. And so he had to die.
There are so many places to go with this! How do we just go along with empire? What inspires us to wake up and act differently? Will we be the tenants of the vineyard so afraid of change that we are willing to murder to keep our way of life? Are we prisoners of empire?