by Corey Markum
Note: This entry was adapted from a church Communion reflection delivered by the author.
Matthew 21:33-42 New Living Translation (NLT)
Parable of the Evil Farmers
33 “Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35 But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.
37 “Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’
38 “But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39 So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.
40 “When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”
41 The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”
42 Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?
‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’”
You may have seen the recent news story out of Florida. A National Guardswoman went to a target range, where she stumbled onto a picture that haunted her. A group of Miami policemen had just left the range, and she discovered that they had been using old mugshot photographs of actual people as their targets. She recognized one of the photographs—it was her brother, arrested and imprisoned for drag-racing 15 years ago at age 18, but now a married father with a stable job and no recent criminal issues. The discovery created significant outcry throughout the country, only intensified because all the photographs were of black males. But I was particularly intrigued by one reaction to the controversy. A group of clergy responded by sending photographs of themselves in ministerial dress and clerical robes to the police department, with notes that said simply “Use me instead.” It was a fascinating and powerful response to me, and made my mind jump to the passage above.
Now, let me first say that this illustration is not designed to implicate all police officers or defend all people accused of crime. I don’t know the motives of any of the authorities in question, nor do I know the circumstances of any of the photographed suspects, except the man whose sister made the discovery. So qualify this illustration however you choose.
But the response of the clergy seemed to me to be a very Kingdom-oriented reaction. It is the reaction that says, “This world is a broken and fallen place. There is little innocence and much guilt. But I will place myself in the midst of it. Whatever cost there is to be paid in the reconciliation and redemption of crime and injustice and evil and pain, let it be carried by me.” And think about it. Isn’t that the role—the reaction—of God and Jesus in the parable, and in the Cross? A world broken by the destructiveness of hate and wrath, and a failure to heed God’s calls and warnings. God’s response in Jesus, though, was not to pour out his wrath back upon the world, but to subject himself to wrath, to take it on himself that he might reconcile and redeem it. God, in Christ, told a wrathful world, “Use Me instead.”
The Pharisees, God bless them, never saw it coming. Indeed, they couldn’t begin to grasp that kind of grace. When Jesus closed by asking what they thought God’s response would be to the murder of His son, they gave the natural response: “He’ll kill the evil farmers! He’ll wipe the dirtbags out!” I shouldn’t be too hard on them, as my friend Jeremy Marshall often reminds me; after all, I still struggle to understand the way of Jesus, even with the benefits of scriptural revelation and 2000 years’ hindsight. But they were wrong. As usual. God’s response to Jesus’ death was not further wrath, further killing. It was Resurrection. A resurrection of Christ to the throne of heaven, and a resurrection of the Body of Christ in the Church. A people of God, called to continue Jesus’ method of stepping into chaos and strife and pain and saying, “Enough! Whatever the cost, use me instead.”
I believe this is one of the foundational purposes of the Table of Christ. Every time we convene at the Table, we encounter the body and blood of Jesus. A body broken and blood spilled, because we each used God instead. A body resurrected and blood that purifies, because God’s response was redemption, not wrath; because God the I AM is God not of the dead, but of the living. And in the taking of bread and wine, we recognize that our redemption is also our call: If we are to indeed be the hands and feet of Jesus, and the messengers of God, we must continue to enter the world’s chaos and hurt and brokenness, actively awaiting the renewal of creation, but willing to tell the world “Use me instead!” until that day comes.