This Sunday is the fifth Sunday in Lent, the Sunday before Holy Week. And the Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 20:9-20] certainly ‘takes the excitement up a notch’. The last verse of the appointed text often is connected to the section that follows, and it speaks of the scribes and the chief priests sending spies.
By itself, the so-called ‘Parable of the Wicked Tenants’ has enough excitement for me. And this is especially true when I compare the account in the Gospel according to Luke with the other two synoptic gospel accounts.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, it gets exciting at 21:39:
‘And [the wicked tenants] took [the owner’s son] and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ [The chief priests and the elders of the people] said to [Jesus], ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’
In the Gospel according to Mark, it gets exciting at 12:8:
‘And [the wicked tenants] took [the owner’s son] and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.’
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus ends up being a good teacher. Even though they are enemies, they have learned something. They know how to answer Jesus’ question. They end up receiving some of the focus. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus ends up being the focus. He asks the question, and he answers it himself.
I think that possibly a ‘middle ground’ text is found in the Gospel according to Luke. The excitement starts at verse 15:
‘And [the wicked tenants] threw [the owner’s son] out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When [the chief priests and the scribes with the elders] heard this, they said, ‘Surely not!’
So how can it be that in the Gospel according to Matthew, the enemies of Jesus get the answer right, and it the Gospel according to Luke, those enemies cannot bear to hear the right answer? The first way to answer is that two people in the same group may be two people with completely different perspectives. Different people answer the same questions in different ways.
What I consider to be the more important answer is to see a different role for Jesus in each of these accounts. And the different roles of Jesus are seen in his connection to each living creature.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, the living creature is the man, and a man is a much better teacher than all the other living creatures. Jesus, as a teacher, fulfills his role in that gospel account.
In the Gospel according to Mark, the living creature is the lion, and a lion is a much better fighter than all the other living creatures. The writer of this account keeps the attention on the person of Jesus, because there is going to be a great battle quite soon—this event, after all, takes place only three days before Jesus’ death.
And in the Gospel according to Luke, the living creature is the ox. The ox has the power of the lion but the gentleness of a man. For those people who do NOT give the right answer, who are ‘stuck’ with their wrong perspective, the ox is there to help. The ox is there to lead them in a different direction, a much better one. And Jesus also wants to keep going in the direction that he was headed.
In these few verses, we see Jesus’ multifaceted salvation. He is, at the very same time, teacher, fighter, and helper. That is good because we do NONE of those things as well as he does. (Incidentally, I hope you are glad that we have four gospel accounts instead of just one.)