So much is contained in the gospels between the retelling of Palm Sunday and the betrayal on the Wednesday before Calvary. We have Jesus teaching in the temple, and the Pharisees, Saducees, and Herodians all putting their questions to Him, all hoping to ensnare Him in one way or another, although they had already decided on his death.
First we have the Sadducees, most concerned with doctrinal points, posing a problem of seven brothers, six of them dying childless, so that all seven had to marry the wife in turn. Whose wife should she be if there really was to be a resurrection? (Read Luke 20: 27-40) The Sadducees based themselves on the Mosaic law and were referring to Deuteronomy 25: 5-10 when they asked this of Jesus.
As for the Herodians, known for their heckling, they were more concerned with ensnaring Jesus in His speech rather than doctrine. They were looking for anything that would allow them to hand Jesus over to the Roman Procurator. (Read Luke 20: 20-26) In this situation, as in others we find Jesus in, a “yes” or “no” answer to the question posed had negative consequences either way. It would seem once again a perfectly planned trap, but of course, Jesus refused the trap and left them marveling at his answer.
The last group, a powerful one, was the chief priests and the scribes, with the elders. They publicly challenged Jesus to tell by what authority he acted as he did. (Read Mt 21: 23-27, Mk 11: 27-33, and Lk 20: 1-8) Here Jesus presents a problem to these chief priests and scribes. Now they cannot answer “yes” or “no” without each having its consequences, but unlike Jesus, they are unable to wisely answer. “We don’t know” is their answer, which Jesus clearly sees as not simply an evasion but a willful refusal to admit John had been sent by God. Sheed, in To Know Christ Jesus, offers the following commentary:
His own sending was clearer still, for he had worked miracles, as John never did. There was no point in offering light to a blindness so determined.
But what he was suggesting about himself was not as disturbing as what he had to say about them, the rulers of his people. He followed their admission that they did not know about John’s baptism by the parable of the two sons (Mt 21:28) who had been ordered by their father to work in his vineyard. One said he would not, but did, all the same. The other agreed at once, but did not. His hearers admitted that it was the first, for all his initial refusal, who did his father’s will.
Then he said the most crushing thing yet: “The publicans and the harlots shall go into the kingdom of heaven before you” – because these outcasts, the moral scum of Israel, the ones who had at first said No, had believed John, while the religious leaders neither believed him nor repented at his urging. Things technically worse than this Christ had said and would say, things that seeemed to them blasphemous, whereas this was not blasphemy. But to place publicans and harlots before them was the ultimate in insult. There was no further insult to go. (p.337)
Now read Luke 20: 9-19, Mark 12: 1-12, and Mt 21: 33-45 Sheeds notes that in this “parable of the wicked husbandmen, he told them that they would kill him.” (p. 337) In the parable just told the vineyard represented God’s chosen people, a regularly used metaphor, or it wouldn’t have to mean more than a literal vineyard. Now vineyard is used again, but this time Jesus leaves no doubt that this time he is referring to Israel. His description of the vineyard is almost a verbal quotation from Isaiah 5. Sheed points out that Jesus’ hearers had read and knew Isaiah 5, and they knew that in the parable they were now hearing, they were the husbandmen, the vinegrowers to whom God had entrusted Israel, and the owner of the vineyard was God.
Jesus told how the owner sent his servants from time to time: the vinegrowers began by beating and otherwise maltreating them, went on to kill them – the Old Testament has prophets slain by the Jews themselves. So the lord of the vineyard said, ” I will send my beloved son; it may be when they see him, they will reverence him.” Him too they killed.
In the fifth chapter, Isaiah gives as fierce an indictment of the leaders of the Chosen People as any that Jesus was ever to utter. (p. 338)
Pharisees and Sadducees could read the chapter with reasonable calm – their fathers had sinned and been punished for it, but it was all eight centuries ago. Not so calmly could they listen to the parable. For the carpenter from Nazareth was applying it to themselves – “they knew that he spoke of them.” A like doom, he threatened, awaited the Israel of now, their Israel. Their fathers had slain the prophets. That they did not deny. But Christ was claiming to be greater than the prophets, not God’s messenger but God’s own Son, and he told them to their face that they would slay him too.
Worse, he took two Old Testament prophecies in which especially they gloried, and applied these to himself, not to them. In each word “stone” was the key word. (p.338-339)
(Reference Ps 118:22, the stone which the builders rejected, and Dn 2:34-45, the stone no hands had quarried.) Both of these references had been taken to be their own Israel.
Christ is telling them that it is his new kingdom, against which they themselves will come into conflict to their own undoing, and which will grind to powder those who finally reject it. (p.339)
On this Tuesday night, Jesus again leaves the city as the day ends. Tonight he went to the Mount of Olives where only two nights later, Judas and the Temple Guard would find him.
WE ADORE YOU, O CHRIST, AND PRAISE YOU.
BECAUSE BY YOUR HOLY CROSS YOU HAVE REDEEMED THE WORLD.