Year A: 20th Sunday After Pentecost
Verse 43: [Jesus said], "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom."
Another round of Jesus versus the Pharisees. This is the middle of three parables in a row hurled without subtlety directly into the faces of the chief priests and elders. But what he lacks here in finesse, Jesus makes up for with sheer blunt force. He is relentless in his barrage against the leaders - the question about authority, the parable of the two sons, the parable of the wicked tenants (this week's text), the parable of the wedding banquet, and his deft rhetorical spar regarding paying taxes to the emperor. Like sledge hammer blows to a concrete wall, Jesus goes to work on the dismantling of the status quo, and he continues right on through the scathing diatribe recorded in chapter 23.
The leaders react. They are afraid of the crowd (21:26, 46) and they are angry enough at Jesus to want to arrest him, to plot against him, to trick him. But ultimately we read that "they were amazed; and they left him and went away" (22:22), and that they were "silenced" (22:34), "nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions" (22:46).
There is a simple word for what Jesus did to those good church people of his time. They were befuddled. I love that word - befuddled. I'm going to try to work it into everyday conversation this week. Just when they think they have it all together, just when they think that the way things have always been is the way things are always going to be, just when they are getting nice and snuggly in the footie pajamas of their privileged position, here comes a rabbi from Galilee with such befuddling words! "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom." How befuddling is that?!?!
The Gospel of Jesus Christ was, is, and most certainly should always be the ultimate befuddler of our lives. As soon as we grow complacent, lethargic, content, we can count on a befuddling confrontation with Jesus to reinvigorate our spirits. Like the most beautiful music happens in the space between dissonance and harmony, so too our lives happen in the space between vitality and lethargy, between pain and comfort, between brokenness and health. And most of the time, we are befuddled...