20 One day as Jesus was teaching the people and preaching the Good News in the Temple, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. 2 They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?”
3 “Let me ask you a question first,” he replied. 4 “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?”
5 They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. 6 But if we say it was merely human, the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet.” 7 So they finally replied that they didn’t know.
8 And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.”
9 Now Jesus turned to the people again and told them this story: “A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and moved to another country to live for several years. 10 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers attacked the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 11 So the owner sent another servant, but they also insulted him, beat him up, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 A third man was sent, and they wounded him and chased him away.
13 ‘What will I do?’ the owner asked himself. ‘I know! I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him.’
14 But when the tenant farmers saw his son, they said to each other, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 15 So they dragged him out of the vineyard and murdered him. What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to them?” Jesus asked. 16 “I’ll tell you — he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.”
“How terrible that such a thing should ever happen,” his listeners protested.
17 Jesus looked at them and said, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ 18 Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”
19 The teachers of religious law and the leading priests wanted to arrest Jesus immediately because they realized he was telling the story against them — they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the people’s reaction.
What really strikes me in today’s reading is the theme of authority and how the response to authority is so revealing of the self. The religious leaders’ demand regarding Jesus’ authority and their internal discussion regarding John’s reveal a great deal about where they are. They refuse to be honest about John and fail to gain any insight from Jesus, but they paint quite a self-portrait for us in the process.
It has been a while since authority has been mentioned in Luke, but it is an important theme. Satan brought it up first in 4.6, tempting Jesus with what he claimed to be able to give. Jesus’ miraculous works demonstrated his authority (4.32, 36, 5.24) and he then bestowed authority on his followers (9.1, 10.19). Jesus and his followers make use of authority to get kingdom work done (what the fruit in the story represents), they are not concerned with authority as a thing unto itself.
The dynamic here is reminiscent of the Good Samaritan parable earlier, where Jesus critiques a question and redirects it. Essentially, the religious leaders are asking for his credentials. Jesus responds by asking what their openness is to God’s visitation. Remember the lament from yesterday: Jesus has just said Jerusalem was unable to see the time of God’s visitation to her. The religious leaders exemplify this here. As the parable illustrates, they fail to recognize their place as workers. They delude themselves into thinking they can gain an inheritance by killing the heir. Their obsession with authority and self-advancement have blinded them to the actual move of God. The prophetic ministries of John and Jesus were not able to penetrate their hearts.
I am afraid we have just such an epidemic of authority obsession in the church today. We squabble and jockey over who gets to be in charge, who gets to speak from our pulpits. We treat church like a pyramid scheme and think of larger church structures (e.g., denominations) as if they are latticed with corporate ladders to climb, as if there is some top, some hierarchy to work toward. This is what the religious leaders and even the disciples thought of when they talked about authority. But in doing so, they reveal themselves in all their anxiety, insecurity, self-preoccupation – yeah, all the stuff we still struggle with.
None of this has anything to do with kingdom authority. At issue is not internal authority, the relationships between us should be governed by our common focus on the work at hand and the mutual freedom Jesus has brought to us. Kingdom authority is not authority to rule within the kingdom. We have one king and we are all servants. Kingdom authority is authority over sickness, disease, blindness, poverty, spiritual oppression, bondage, injustice, and the powers of this world that now stand condemned. Kingdom authority is the authority to declare the year of the Lord’s favor, to usher in and witness moments of divine visitation. Kingdom authority is authority to do the work of the kingdom. Those who wish to merely possess authority misunderstand its purpose and are only playing games of internal politics. Those who understand the politics of Jesus are free to access and use his authority to carry out the work Jesus has called them to do.
God has called you to do something. God has empowered you with what you need to do that. God has given you the authority to do that. Surround yourself with people who recognize your call, celebrate your empowerment, and help you grow into your authority. And for heaven’s sake, stop waiting for permission to do the work you have been assigned. You will find your truest self in doing the work.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.