Does Jesus pronounce judgement on his people in Matt 21?

The Sunday lectionary reading for Trinity 17 in Year A is the second of three judgement parables against the Jerusalem leaders in Matt 21.33–46: traditionally, the parable of the wicked husbandmen, or the parable of the wicked tenants. There is plenty to explore within the passage, and in its relation to the surrounding texts—but it also raises larger questions about the place of judgement in the teaching of Jesus and therefore within our understanding of God and God’s actions.

Charles Talbert, in his Paideia commentary on Matthew, sees judgement as the key theme in the whole of this section of Matthew, which links the different parts of chapters 19 to 25.

The last of Matthew’s five big cycles consists of the customary narrative (Matt 19.3–24.2) and discourse (Matt 24.3–25.46), with the usual closing formula (Matt 26.1a). The two are linked by the theme of judgement: on Israel’s leaders, the temple, inauthentic disciplines, and the nations. Judgement is both within history and at the end of history (p 229).
On the first day in the city, after his ‘triumphal’ entry, Jesus has already acted out judgement in the dramatic symbolism of the cleansing of the temple, and added further symbolic action in the withering of the fig tree. On his second day, when he re-enters the temple, his authority for such acts is questioned by the Jerusalem leaders; they appear to be enacting judgement on him, but his return question reflects their judgement back on themselves, so that they are judged by their attitude to Jesus.

There then follows three parables of judgement, all closely related but unhelpfully separated in our Bibles by a chapter division at Matt 22.1. Although the first parable is unique to Matthew, whilst the second is found in all three Synoptics, the relationship between the two is very close:

How do we proclaim good news during the pandemic?

On Sunday just before lunch, I was invited to be interviewed on Sky News on Monday morning about a letter I had signed calling on the Government to keep churches open even if there was another lockdown. This is what I said—but I also want to offer some reflections on what is required to engage well in the local or national media in this way:

There has been a very positive response to the interview—though listening back I think there are a number of things I could have done better. But these are my reflections on how to make the most of opportunities like this, whether they are local or national. 

1. Say yes straight away

Those working in the media have pressing schedules. They must fill their slots, often at the last minute, and are desperate to get hold of names they can use. This is especially so in the case of covering religion, about which most of them will be completely ignorant. If they get in touch, then you are potentially the answer to their prayer (pun intended); they don’t have time for you to check your diary, come back to them, or allow you to suggest a change of schedule. 

On Monday morning, I was planning to write an article for the blog, walk the dog, then go into a morning’s teaching on Zoom. It would have been easy to say ‘no’, but instead I rearranged what I had to do, including bringing some things forward into Sunday evening, in order to do this. 

If you are approached, say yes unless it really is impossible. They won’t ask a second time. 

2. Do your research

Offering a good comment means doing lots of research, and then selecting carefully the most important messages. I had already done a couple of morning’s work in order to write my piece at the end of last week on a Christian response to the possibility of lockdown—but there was more to do. I re-read the letter that I had signed, highlighting key elements and making notes, and also read some articles which had commented, for and against. I also read a further set of discussions about the pandemic and the response of lockdown, including one with Professor Sunetra Gupta, who used the phrase ‘ecological relationship with the virus’ which I mentioned. 

How does the cross overcome not just our guilt, but our shame?

Jon Kuhrt writes: A continual challenge in Christian community work and social action is the connection between the practical work being done to the actual message itself. People can pour into church buildings for toddler groups, foodbanks, lunch clubs, youth clubs and night shelters. But often these social action programmes become detached and disconnected from the message which inspired the work in the first place. 

Fruit and roots

How does this work connect to the church’s core message? How can the fruit of social action remain connected to the roots from which it has grown? These questions are important. If not addressed they create tensions which turn easily into strife and conflict between churches and the projects they have started. Its a reality I have seen many, many times.

There is often a tangible lack of confidence and ambition to make connections and to integrate the message alongside the action. Some people use woolly theology to justify this dis-integration, sometimes trotting out the line attributed to St Francis:

‘Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary’.
But as Justin Welby succinctly put it:

‘Francis almost certainly never said it. And if he did, he was wrong’.
Articulating hope

I agree with Welby. Our failure to communicate what we believe is nothing to celebrate. The gospel is good news. It is a message about God’s grace and truth: what He has done and what he continues to do.

How do we walk the way of the cross in a world seeking happiness?

Savvas Costi writes: We’re drowning in our own personas. Our cultural mood is one where the self has thrown off all constraints in the pursuit of self-discovery, where all absolutes have been dissolved and meta-narratives deconstructed; we followed Nietzsche’s lead in thinking we could philosophise with a hammer and deconstruct the house we were living … Continue Reading

How do we handle the complexities of the Bible, sexual ethics, and contemporary culture?

Sam Evans writes: Earlier this year I had the opportunity to study a module in Christian Ethics.  I was both daunted and excited. Once I’d vaguely orientated myself in the worlds of Plato, Aristotle, Kant and others, I thought I was ready to explore some contemporary issues.  Little did I realise that I would actually find … Continue Reading