Mark Udall is locked in a tight race for United States Senate. Andrew Romanoff is locked in a tight race for Congress.
Sen. Michael Bennet remembers a tight race he won in 2010. Only one vote per voting precinct statewide separated Sen. Bennet from his opponent.
All three are shown here, firing up volunteers for the final 19 days of the campaign. So far, volunteers in the 6 congressional district have signed up for 7000 shifts of canvassing and phone banking.
What Udall and Romanoff are for: raising the minimum wage, womens' reproductive health, doing something about climate change, equal pay for equal work, more funding for the Center for Disease Control, more funding for veterans' benefits, immigration reform, affordable health care, repairing infrastructure, job training and voc rehab, early childhood education--for starters.
Their opponents are against all these things, and believe in something called "trickle down economics," a fanciful economic theory, of sorts, that has never worked, not one time, in any state or country in the history of the world.
Colorado ballots go out tomorrow. For the first time in its history, every registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail.
Also for the first time, Colorado has same-day voter registration. If you are not registered, you can go to a voting center on the day of the election to register and vote. Thank you, Colorado Legislature!
Democrats turned out in large numbers this evening for this year's Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) training. The stakes are high. Sen. Mark Udall is probably trailing Cory Gardner by a point or two, and Andrew Romanoff is locked in a tight race with incumbent Mike Coffman in Colorado's 6th congressional district.
They say the "ground game" can add up to a 2% boost. Arapahoe Democrats are off to a good start. As of today, 60,000 households have been contacted through canvassing, and another 70,000 households through telephone.
Having worked GOTV in 2004, 2008, and 2012, I'm reasonably convinced that these GOTV efforts are getting better and better at turning out the vote. In 2004, election day was chaos. Even at that, we turned out a high percentage of the vote. By 2012, GOTV had become better organized, almost business-like.
Under Colorado law, a citizen may take another person's ballot to the voting center. Each person is limited to taking a total of 10 ballots. The Colorado Democratic Party has chosen not to encourage its volunteers to take ballots.
The reason seems to be that Colorado currently has a Secretary of State who rivals Kansas' Kobach for worst in the nation. He'll be all over the election looking for anything that might be dangerous to the state, such as people voting. (Nevertheless, be it known that it is still a person's right, under the law, to take the ballots of 10 people to the voting center.)
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Translation: Then the pharisees went and deliberated together about how they might entrap him in a word. And they sent to him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true, and that you teach the way of God in truth, and you care for no one, for you do not see into the outward expression of people. Tell us, therefore, what you think: Is it lawful to give a poll tax to Caesar or not?"
But Jesus, knowing of their evil, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax." And they brought to him a denarius. And he said to them, "Whose image is this, and what inscription?" They said to him, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to Caesar (what is) Caesar's and those of God to God." And hearing, they were amazed, and leaving him, they went away.
Background and situation: Matthew follows Mark (12:13-17) closely. One minor change from Mark is that Mark has "they sent to him some of the Pharisees," which Matthew changes to "and they (Pharisees) sent their disciples."
This is more a reflection of the world of Matthew, AD 80, than that of Jesus, AD 30. By the time of Matthew, the Sadducees had fallen and the Pharisees were consolidating their position as the dominant tradition within Judaism. In AD 80, pharisaic rabbis had disciples.
Jesus had been speaking to the "chief priests and elders" (21: 23), then "chief priests and pharisees" (21: 45). Now the Herodians are brought into the picture, which means that the tension would have been ratcheted up. The "Herodians" were followers and supporters of Herod Antipas who ruled the regions of Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to AD 39.
Religion and politics: Heretofore, Jesus had been speaking with the religious leadership. Now, representatives of the political leadership, who had the power of the sword, have entered the discussion. Normally, the Pharisees and Herodians would be opponents. Here, they are together in their opposition to Jesus. Politics, and religion, makes strange bedfellows.
The Pharisees and Herodians address Jesus as "teacher," which sounds respectful, though it should be noted that, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus is called "teacher" only by those who don't follow his message.
The Pharisees and Herodians go on to say that Jesus is "true"--the NRSV renders alethia as "sincere," but "true" is better--and that he teaches "the way of God in truth."
At this point, the Greek turns difficult. It has ou melei soi peri oudenos, which, literally, would be "you do not care concerning no one." The NRSV has "(you) show deference to no one." The next phrase is ou gar blepeis eis prosopon anthropown, which, literally, would be "for you do not see into the outward expression of people." Prosopon is the outward visage of an essential nature (hypostasis). It is usually translated as "face," but really refers to the entire external manifestation of one's inner condition.
The Pharisees and Herodians appear to flatter Jesus by twice proclaiming him "true," but then seem to take some of that away by saying that he cares not for others, nor sees "into" (eis) the "face" of people. The sense of it seems to be that Jesus is sincere, but naive concerning the nature of life. Put another way, Jesus does not know what he's gotten himself into. He's in over his head.
This might not have been an entirely unreasonable assumption. The debate about the tax was an important issue in Jerusalem. It touched on the question of how the Jewish people were to relate to their occupying power, the Roman Empire. Should the people support this occupation by paying the tax? It was a tricky question, much debated, and the religious and political forces in Jerusalem might have thought that a street preacher from Galilee--the "sticks"--might not be up to the task of dealing with it.
The Pharisees and Herodians sprung their trap. Is it lawful to pay the "poll tax" to Caesar or not? The "poll tax" was one denarius per year, and was one of three general taxes. (There were many other more particular taxes.)
The "poll tax" was much hated by the people. The zealots, mainly rural anti-Roman terrorists--or "freedom fighters," take your pick--flatly refused to pay it. The common people, the vast majority of whom were poor, sympathized with the zealots on this point.
If Jesus says that the tax should be paid, he would lose much of his political support among the people. On the other hand, if he says the tax should not be paid, the Herodians are right there to arrest him for sedition.
Ironically, the Pharisees and Herodians, here portrayed as united in their opposition to Jesus, were themselves split on the question of paying the tax. The Pharisees generally, if somewhat tepidly, opposed it, while the Herodians, naturally, supported it.
Jesus "knew"--gnous, from ginosko--"their evil" and flatly called them "hypocrites." This was especially true of the Pharisees who liked to strike pious Jewish poses, but are seen here as collaborating with Rome-loving Herodians.
Jesus then asks for the coin, a denarius, which was used to pay the tax. This simple action was an exceptionally deft political move. Note that the entire conversation since 21: 23 has taken place after Jesus has "entered" the Temple. Coins with Roman images and inscriptions were not allowed in the Temple.
What's more, this episode takes place on the morning after Jesus had driven the moneychangers out of the Temple. The reason the moneychangers were there in the first place was to change Roman coins into Temple coins. (Their profit was around 50%.)
By asking for a coin, Jesus sent the message to the on-looking crowds that he, quite properly, did not possess one of these coins. When the Pharisees and Herodians gave him one, they reveal that they did possess such coins. Thus, they disclose that they are, wittingly or unwittingly, supporting the Roman imperial system over against their own Jewish tradition.
Driving home his point, Jesus wants to know whose image is on the coin. The word is eikon and should be translated as "image," not "head," as the NRSV has it. This recalls, as Jesus thoroughly intended, the Torah prohibitions on "graven images." His message is clear: The image of Caesar is an idol.
He also asks what inscription--epigraphe--was written on the coin, which, in the time of Jesus, would have been: Ti(berius) Caesar divi Aug(usti) f(ilius) Augustus, which means, "Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus."
By asking for the inscription on the coin in front of a Jewish crowd, Jesus exposes the pretensions and pagan ideology of the occupying Romans and those who collaborate with them, like, say, the Pharisees and Herodians.
Then comes the famous saying: "Give, therefore, to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." Any Jew within hearing distance, which would have been the entire crowd observing this scene, would know that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 24: 1). Everything is God's. There are no exceptions. The Pharisees and Herodians, knowing they were licked and hoist on their own petard, can only be "amazed" and leave.
The saying has been oft-used to support the separation of church and state. While I am in favor of this separation, it is an inappropriate use of this saying to apply it to our modern situation. If Jesus had said "but give to God what is God's," you could make an argument that Jesus was making a distinction and trying to carve out separate spheres of action for the political and, supposedly, the "spiritual."
He didn't do that. The conjunction is not "but," but "and." What Jesus was really doing is undermining imperial authority, and exposing the religious leadership as collaborating with that authority.
He was not outlining the separate spheres of the religious and the political. That would have been a bizarre idea in first century Israel. Rather, he was contending against the contemporary leadership of both. In doing so, he was being both political and spiritual at once.
Image: Denarius issued during the reign of Tiberius, AD 14-37.
Have you gone stark raving mad? Aside from its introduction of a lesson and psalm from the O.T., which seems to me admirable since few people go any more to Mattins or Evensong, the new ‘liturgy’ is appalling.
Our Church has had the singular good-fortune of having its Prayer-Book composed and its Bible translated at exactly the right time, i.e., late enough for the language to be intelligible to any English-speaking person in this century (any child of six can be told what ‘the quick and the dead’ means) and early enough, i.e., when people still had an instinctive feeling for the formal and the ceremonious which is essential in liturgical language.
This feeling has been, alas, as we all know, almost totally lost. (To identify the ceremonious with ‘the undemocratic’ is sheer contemporary cant.) The poor Roman Catholics, obliged to start from scratch, have produced an English Mass which is a cacophonous monstrosity (the German version is quite good, but German has a certain natural sonority): But why should we imitate them?
I implore you by the bowels of Christ to stick to Cranmer and King James. Preaching, of course, is another matter: there the language must be contemporary. But one of the great functions of the liturgy is to keep us in touch with the past and the dead.
And what, by the way, has happened to the altar cloths? If they have been sold to give money to the poor, I will gladly accept their disappearance: I will not accept it on any liturgical or doctrinal grounds.
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’
Translation: And again, Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to an earthly king who gave a marriage feast for his son. And he sent his servants to call the-ones-who-had-been-called to the marriage feast, but they did not want to come. Again, he sent other servants, saying, 'Speak to those-who-have-been-called: Behold! I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and fat calves are killed, and all is ready. Come into the marriage feast.'
But the ones being neglectful went away, one to his land, another to his trade, and the rest seized his servants, treated them with insolence, and killed them. The king became angry, and sending his soldiers, he destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, 'The marriage feast is ready, but the-ones-who-had-been-called were not worthy. Go, therefore, upon the journey-ways and call into the marriage feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the 'ways' and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good, and the wedding feast was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to behold the guests, he saw there a person who had not put on the wedding garment. And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here not having a wedding garment?' But he was speechless. Then the king said to the deacons, 'Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the outer darkness. There, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For the invited (are) many, but the chosen (are) few."
Background and situation: The lection is mostly from Q--the parallel is Luke 14:15-24--though Matthew's version is some different from Luke's.
In Luke, "a man" gives "a great dinner." Matthew kicks this up a notch or two. The main character in Matthew's parable is a king. (Matthew has a special fondness for royal images. He frequently presents images of king-ship and kingdoms.)
Likewise, the "great dinner" in Luke is the "marriage feast" in Matthew--indeed, the Great Banquet itself. The marriage feast as a symbol of God's abundant fellowship with humanity at the culmination of history goes back at least to first Isaiah (c. 750 BC):
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. (Isaiah 25: 6)
Matthew tells three parables between 21: 23 and 22: 14--the parable of the two sons, the parable of the wicked tenants, and, now, the parable of the wedding banquet. In the first parable, the parable of the two sons, tax collectors and prostitutes are said to go into the kingdom of heaven before the religious leadership.
In the parable of the wicked tenants, the kingdom will be taken away from the religious leadership and given to people who produce fruits. In the parable of the wedding banquet, the invitation is rejected by those first invited and given to those rounded up at the last minute.
Having been led through three parables which place the religious leadership in a negative light, the surprising conclusion at the end of the parable (11-13), added by Matthew, focuses attention on the shortcomings of the church. The old leadership is compromised, yes, but the new community also has its own problems.
Parable of the wedding banquet: The king sends his servants out to "call those who have been called" (tous keklemenous). The root Greek word (kaleo) is the same as that which also designates the church--ekklesia, which literally means: the "called out ones." Matthew is the only one of the four gospels to use the word ekklesia (16: 18).
In this parable, however, the "called out ones" refers to the first "called out ones," the Hebrews. They are represented in this parable, and throughout Matthew's gospel, by the Jewish religious heirarchy. (Matthew has nothing against Jews per se. He is one himself, as was Jesus. His argument is with the religious leadership.)
This is made clear by a brief re-cap: It is Holy Week. Jesus has entered Jerusalem, driven the profiteers out of the Temple, then publicly embarrassed and verbally assaulted the "chief priests and scribes"--the Temple heirarchy--by reminding the crowd of the heirarchy's complicity in the murder of John the Baptist.
Then, he tells the parable of the two sons, the point of which is to accuse the "chief priests and scribes" of not practicing justice and of opposing God. After that, he tells the parable of the wicked tenants, the point of which is the rejection of the religious heirarchy in favor of those who "produce the fruits of the kingdom."
Then, he tells this story, the parable of the wedding banquet. The king is holding a wedding banquet in honor of his son. He sends his servants to call those invited--the original "called out ones"--but they hold the king's invitation in low regard and did not want to come.
This is a surprising impertinence. An invitation from the king was as close to a "command performance" as could be found in the ancient world--or today either, for that matter. This disregard for the king's invitation symbolizes Israel's resistance to the first servants sent by the king, the Old Testament prophets.
The king then sends out "other" servants to the same group. These "other servants" of the king represent the followers of "the way"--the early Christians, in other words. They issue the announcement of the arrival of the Great Banquet. This time, the invitation is stated fully and explicitly: "Behold! I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and fat calves are killed, and all is ready. Come into the marriage feast."
"All is ready" is clear eschatological language. One should ask: How is it that "all is ready"? Note that the figure of "the son" does not actually appear in this parable. This "son" had been killed in the parable of the wicked tenants immediately preceding.
Yet, in this parable, the son is obviously alive. The parable of the wedding banquet assumes that the son has been raised from the dead. In his death and resurrection, "all is ready."
This time, the invitees are called "neglectful." They "did not care" about the king's dinner. One went to his farm. The other went to his business--emporium, in Greek. They went back to preserving and expanding their economic interests, in other words. Agriculture and commerce were primary sources of wealth for the ruling families of Jerusalem.
The "rest"--loipoi--inflict violence upon these "other" servants. The "rest" are the minions of the ruling class, those not directly wealthy themselves, but rather those who lived high on the hog off the largesse of their benefactors, the wealthy ruling families.
The "other servants" are seized, mistreated, and killed. The king retaliates by sending soldiers who destroyed the murderers and burned the city. (Any connection with a real event is hereby sundered. You don't get angry, start a war, and conquer a city all before the pot roast gets cold.)
The mention of a burning city is an obvious reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in the Roman-Jewish War, AD 70, and Matthew's audience would have recognized this immediately. For Matthew, the destruction of Jerusalem was the judgment of God against those who resisted the "way of justice" and killed Jesus.
The original "ones who were called" turn out to be "not worthy." The king then tells his servants to "go, therefore." (In chapter 28, the same phrase will announce the mission to "all nations.") Here, the servants are to go to, in Greek, diexodous ton 'odon--literally: "through out of ways of ways."
The meaning of diexodous itself is unclear. It appears to mean road-exits leaving a town. You'll notice also the word "exodus" in it, a recollection of the Hebrew people on their journey out of slavery into freedom. (Does diexodous ton 'odon suggest that following the way of Jesus is true freedom?)
The servants go out on these "road-exits" or, as I've translated it, "journey-ways," and "gather together"--synagoge--"all" they found, "both bad and good." Placing "bad" before "good" draws attention to this pointed rejection of morality as a basis for determining who goes to the banquet.
Morality is not a consideration. The servants are to gather up all they find without regard to whether anyone deserves it or not. Accordingly, the wedding banquet is "filled with guests."
The "friend": Matthew then appends vss. 11-13 which are unique to Matthew. The king enters the wedding hall to "behold the guests" whereupon he notices one person who was not dressed in the proper wedding garment.
This person is called "friend" (etairos). Matthew uses this word three times in his gospel--once to describe the "friend" who complained about the justice of the owner in the parable of the laborers of the vineyard, its use here, and once in relation to Judas, the betrayer. The word carries a certain chill. Think of it as "hey, pal" expressed ironically.
Robert Capon imagines that the host of the banquet supplied the wedding garments. Otherwise, how could you expect people rounded up off the streets to have the proper clothes? You don't leave for work in the morning by packing a tux in your lunch box on the outside chance that someone might call you to a wedding party.
The host supplied the wedding garment of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Great Banquet has been made possible and ushered in by that and that alone.
One person has apparently thought the banquet is based in something other than that. He wears some other garment. We are not told whether the man wore rags or a tux. It matters not which. Anything other than the wedding garment of Christ's death and resurrection is irrelevant.
The man is asked how he got in without the proper dress. The man was "speechless." In essence, by refusing to respond or speak, the man refuses to enter into a relationship with the king. Capon argues that if he'd said anything at all--if he would have acknowledged a relationship in any way--he'd have been all right. But he didn't. He was "speechless."
The man is unceremoniously shown the exit because the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only reason that anyone is there. Their presence has nothing to do with their "goodness" or "badness." It has nothing to do with whether or not they are in any way "worthy." It has everything to do with a "new creation" in which none of that counts.
The lection closes with a line which, at first glance, doesn't relate very well to the rest of the story: "For many are called, but few chosen." On the basis of the story, who are the "many"? Conversely, who are the "few"?
For me, the word for "chosen"--eklectoi--indicates the people of the early church, the ekklesia. Many have been called, in other words, but only a few have been chosen for the church. Thus, Matthew is able to affirm the universal message of the gospel and simultaneously explain why it has not taken the world by storm.
‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Translation: "Hear another parable: There was a 'house-ruler' who planted a vineyard and placed a hedge around it and dug a wine vat in it and built a tower and let it out to tenants and went away. But when the time of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to take his fruit. And the tenants took his servants, and thrashed one, and killed one, and stoned one. Again, he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did to them likewise.
Last of all, he sent to them his son, saying, 'They will be shamed by my son.' The tenants, seeing the son, said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and let us have the inheritance.' And they took him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed (him). When, therefore, the lord of the vineyard might come, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, 'He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and the vineyard will be leased to other tenants who will deliver to him the fruits in his decisive time.'
Jesus said to them, 'Have you never distinguished in the scriptures: 'A stone which the house-builders rejected, this has become the head of the corner. Through the lord, it became this, and it was wonderful in our eyes?' Because of this, I say to you that the kingdom of God will be raised up from you and it will be given to a multitude that produces fruit of it. And the one falling on this stone will be crushed, upon whom it might fall, he will be ground to powder." When the chief priests and the pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them. And seeking to take hold of him, they were fearing the crowds because they regarded him as a prophet.
Background and situation: This is the second of three controversy stories in a row. The first, the parable of the two sons, was from Special Matthew (21: 23-32). This week's lection, 21:33-46, is originally from Mark (12: 1-12), though with several changes of emphasis. (For example, Matthew changes Mark's "man" to "house-ruler." In Matthew, the "house-ruler" wants all of the fruit, whereas in Mark it's "some of the fruit.")
The vineyard is a common image for Israel. Indeed, the Old Testament reading for the day is Isaiah 5: 1-7, the "song of the vineyard."
In the "song of the vineyard," however, it is the vineyard itself which is seen to be at fault. God planted grapes, but kept getting "wild grapes" instead. In today's gospel reading, it is not the vineyard itself which is flawed, but rather the leadership that has failed.
Parable of the wicked tenants: Mark tells of several individual servants who are sent to the vineyard of Israel. Matthew focuses this to two sets of servants, possibly, some have suggested, to represent both pre-exilic and post-exilic prophets. Finally--"last of all"--the "house-ruler" sends his son. (The phrase "last of all" sounds an eschatological note.)
Matthew refers to the prophets more than any other gospel writer, not surprising considering that Matthew is a Jew and writing for a predominantly Jewish community. In Matthew, the people affirm Jesus as prophet as he enters the city of Jerusalem (21: 11). They do so again in verse 46.
The plotting of the tenants seems to follow this logic: If the "house-ruler" dies without an heir, the tenants would have a claim to the land. (This part was true.) If the son showed up at the vineyard, the tenants might take that as a sign that the "house-ruler" had died. The son would then be the last remaining obstacle in their appropriation of the vineyard. Kill him and the vineyard is theirs?
Such a possibility fails because at the end of the parable, the "house-ruler" is still very much alive and preparing to dish out punishment. The tenants' plot is both clueless and fantastic.
The "house-ruler," in NRSV, says, "They will respect my son." The word is entrepo, and the primary reading of entrepo is "shame." The word is in the future passive form, and the most natural reading would be, "They will be shamed by my son."
"Respect" might be an appropriate alternate reading, but I'm wondering if Matthew didn't really intend the word to mean "be shamed." The leadership, in Matthew's way of thinking, should have been "shamed" by their failure to lead the people in a way consistent with God's message delivered through the prophets, and now, through the prophet Jesus.
In regard to tenant violence, Matthew again makes some changes to the story he received from Mark. In Mark, the violence is somewhat random and chaotic. First, the servants are beaten, then wounded, then killed. Other servants are sent, and some were wounded, and others were killed.
Matthew structures the violence, and connects it to the circumstances of Jesus' own death. In Matthew, the tenants throw the son out of the vineyard. (In Mark, the son is killed, then thrown out of the vineyard.) Being thrown out of the vineyard is a metaphor for being thrown out of Israel, such as when Jesus was crucified on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. It is another way of saying that the religious leadership of Judaism rejected Jesus.
The "owner of the vineyard" (21:40) is actually identified as "lord of the vineyard" in the Greek text, which makes clear that the judgment which follows comes from God.
Jesus has structured the telling of the story such that it is the chief priests and scribes who give voice to their own judgment. He asks what the "lord" would do to the wicked tenants? They pronounce: "He will put those wretches to a miserable death."
John Meier notes that the phrase, "He will put those wretches to a wretched end," is a play on words from the Greek play Ajax, by Sophocles. (Such fine-tuned Greek literary allusions undermine the argument that Matthew wrote originally in Aramaic.)
The response of the chief priests and scribes is incriminating on yet another level as well. "He will put those wretches to a miserable death" is a statement that reveals the chief priests and scribes to be people of violence.
That is their judgment, however, and not God's. God does not respond to the tenants' treachery with violence, but rather by removing the chief priests and scribes from their position of authority in the vineyard. Instead, the vineyard will be given over to those who "produce the fruits of the kingdom."
By the end of the parable, the concept of vineyard has shifted. The vineyard is no longer Israel or Jerusalem, but rather "the kingdom". It is no longer governed by a corrupt elite, but by an egalitarian people who live out the precepts of that kingdom.
Good works: Matthew regularly speaks of "fruit" or "bearing fruits." "Fruits" is Matthew's favorite metaphor for walking in the way of Jesus, doing as Jesus did, following the program of Jesus, which, in sum, is the absolute equality of all, and an affirmation of the dignity of every human being.
This is lived out through open table hospitality, opposition to corruption and exploitation of the poor, and non-heirarchical living. As an example of the latter, notice that it is a "people"--ethne--who are given responsibility for the vineyard, not a class of leaders. A "people" will bear fruit, not merely their supposed spiritual "betters".
The parable itself ends without any reference to resurrection or vindication. Jesus then adds Psalm 118: 22-23--"the stone which the builders rejected"--to say that God has indeed vindicated Jesus and placed him at the "head of the corner."
This is how the resurrection should be understood: The way which is rejected--non-violence, equality, human dignity--turns out to be the true way. The resurrection is God's vindication of the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It is God's stamp of approval--God's emphatic "yes!"--to the way of compassion as exemplified by Jesus in his life and his death.
Matthew then has Jesus announce that God will turn the vineyard over to a "people" who "produce the fruits of the kingdom," which is the actual doing of justice and living a way of life already demonstrated by Jesus throughout the book of Matthew.
Interestingly, the pharisees are lumped in with the chief priests in verse 45, though these two groups were often at odds with each other. In the time of Jesus, the Sadducees (chief priests) were firmly in control of the Temple apparatus and the Sanhedrin. In the time of Matthew, c. AD 80, the pharisees had supplanted the Sadducees as the dominant tradition within Judaism.
The pharisees then re-wrote their own history to show that they had actually been dominant in the Sanhedrin all along. (This is rather like the old Soviets who used to air-brush discredited politicians out of photographs.) This was not true in actual history, however.
The chief priests and pharisees--no fools!--correctly discern that the parable of the wicked tenants was about them. They want to arrest Jesus right then and there, but Jesus was speaking publicly and was surrounded by the crowds who regarded Jesus as a prophet.
Again, we see the mass appeal of Jesus and his popularity with common people. That they regarded Jesus as a prophet also ties Jesus, again, to the figures in the parable.
Kansas Adjutant General Joe Nickell created this "sunflower flag" in 1953. This "state banner" may be used along with, or instead of, the current state flag, and, in my view, should be.
The official state flag is the standard and unimaginative "state-seal-on-a-field-of-blue." Several states have something like it.
Unfortunately, the features of the seal are indistinct at any distance beyond about ten feet. In fact, back in the 60's, the Kansas State Legislature felt compelled to add the word "Kansas" to the flag so that people would know what it was.
This flag would work much better. It's simpler, prettier, hipper--almost hypnotic in its power to evoke the majesty of the high plains, strengthen the spirit, and call forth our higher virtues. World class artists couldn't produce something this cool. Plus, if your glasses aren't adjusted quite properly, the sunflower petals seem to move on you, suggesting dynamism and energy.
Joe Nickell was Adjutant General from 1951 to 1972. Nickell Barracks in Salina and the Nickell Memorial Armory in Topeka are named for him. He also served in the State Legislature. The sunflower patch is worn on Kansas National Guard uniforms to this day, and the banner is sometimes used at National Guard ceremonies. The original banner--the future state flag, one hopes!--is on display in the Governor's office.
Honor a great soldier and patriot! Honor a great state with a great flag!
Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, ally of the Koch brothers, is doing all he can to get a Democrat on the ballot for the US Senate race in Kansas. The Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, withdrew from the contest in order to give independent, Greg Orman, a better chance to defeat the Virginian incumbent, Pat Roberts.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled against Kobach last Thursday, saying that if Taylor has decided he doesn't want to run for the US Senate, Kobach can't make him. Said the Court: “The Secretary of State thus has no discretion to refuse to remove Chadwick J. Taylor’s name from the ballot." (Chadwick? We had a candidate named Chadwick?)
The Roberts campaign released a statement that springs to the defense of the state's Democrats. “The Kansas Supreme Court deliberately, and for political purposes, disenfranchised over 65,000 voters,” said Roberts spokesman Corry Bliss. “Liberal activist Supreme Court justices have decided that if you voted in the Democrat primary on August 5th, your vote does not matter, your voice does not matter,” his statement said.
It's heartwarming, in this time of fierce partisanship, to see the nation's most Republican Secretary of State and Kansas' Virginia Republican Senator, sticking up for the downtrodden, i.e. Kansas Democrats, as they are being oppressed by "liberal activist justices."
If Kobach ultimately should force the Democrats to put someone on the ballot, former Kansas Democratic Party State Chairman, John T. Bird of Hays, suggests his party nominate a Democrat named Pat Roberts. Amateur researchers have located at least two Democrats named Pat Roberts in the State of Kansas.
Image: Virginia resident, Pat Roberts, currently serving as United States Senator from Kansas.
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ 24Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” 26But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ 27So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.”29He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go.31Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Translation: And when he went into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, saying, "By what sort of power are you doing these things, and who gave you this power?" But Jesus answered them, "In like manner, I will ask you one word, which if you might speak to me I will tell you by what power I do these things. The baptism of John, from where was it? From heaven or from humanity?" And they were in dialog with one another, saying, "If we say 'out of heaven' he will say to us, 'Why therefore did you not believe him?' But if we say "from humanity' we are afraid of the crowd for all hold John as a prophet." And they answered Jesus saying, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what power I do these things."
"What do you think? A man had two children, and he went to the first and said, 'Child, go work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward, being sorry, he went. But he went to the other likewise. He answered, saying, 'I am, Lord,' and he did not go. Which out of the two did the will of father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you that tax collectors and prostitutes go before you into the kingdom of God, for John came to you in the way of justice and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him, but when you were seeing, you were not sorry afterward to believe him."
Background and situation: Matthew follows Mark (11:27-33) in the first part of the lection, then switches to Special Matthew with the parable of the two sons. (The Lukan parallel is 20: 1-8.)
It is passion week and Jesus has already entered into Jerusalem and driven the moneychangers out of the Temple. He did not, as many suppose, "cleanse" the Temple. Cleansing assumes that the Temple is "impure" and needs some sprucing up so that it can be useful again.
Jesus makes no effort which could be categorized as "cleansing." No, he "overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves" (21:12). Clearly, this is an attack on the Temple's financial base and the ruling families who ran it.
The money-changers made it possible to change Roman money into Temple money. (Roman coins, with their idolatrous images of the Emperor, could not be carried into the Temple.) The money-changers, acting on behalf of their employers, were happy to do this for the small exchange fee of roughly 50%. Give them two dollars worth of Roman coins, and you get one dollar of Temple money in return.
Doves were a suitable sacrifice for those who could not afford to offer sheep. Even these low-cost options, however, carried a significant mark-up in price. Later in the first century, the son of Rabbi Gamaliel would lead a successful protest against the exhorbitant mark-up on sacrificial doves. As a result of this protest, the price was lowered 99%!
After chasing the moneychangers out of the Temple, the "chief priests and scribes" are said to be "angry" because of "the amazing things he did" (21:15) and because the children were in the Temple crying out, "Hosanna to the Son of David." (Even inside the Temple, the "little ones" are singing his praises. If you're a Temple plutocrat, this is an unsettling development.)
The political jiu jitsu of Jesus of Nazareth: Jesus then leaves Jerusalem to stay at Bethany. (Jerusalem may have been unsafe for him.) When he returns the next day, the "chief priests and scribes" are right there and want to know "by what authority"--exousia, power, ability--he does "these things," i.e. chasing out the moneychangers, then teaching in the Temple.
In rabbinical style, Jesus counters their question with a question about John the Baptist, a query which put his opponents in a considerable political bind. "The baptism of John," he asks, "From where was it? From heaven or from humanity?"
The "chief priests and scribes" correctly perceive their dilemma. If they say that John's baptisms were by the authority of heaven, Jesus will ask why they didn't "believe"--pisteuein--John. If they say that John's authority was of human origin, they will aggravate the crowd because "all" regarded John as a prophet.
John may have had some closet support, even among these chief priests and scribes. Matthew had said earlier (3:7) that "many" Pharisees and Sadducees went out to John. The Sadducees were the priestly party. Many among the "chief priests" would have been Sadducees.
Sure enough, the "chief priests and scribes" argue with one another--dialogizonto, they were "in dialog" with each other--but can't come up with an effective strategy to counter Jesus' question, especially when they are not of one mind on the question themselves. They eventually throw up their hands and say, "We do not know."
Jesus has accomplished four important things: First, he played on the divisions within his opposition. One's position on John the Baptist was something like a first century "wedge issue." Jesus' question exposes a political fault line within his opponents.
Secondly, the embarrassing equivocation of these Temple authorities in response to Jesus' question has further lowered the crowd's estimation of them. If this is the best the "establishment" can come up with, maybe they're not as smart as they've been telling us they are.
Third, Jesus has again aligned himself in the popular mind with John the Baptist. He reminds the crowd that he and the Baptist had much in common. Jesus presents himself on the side of a popular hero, and in opposition to the ruling circles which killed him.
The fourth thing Jesus does is frame the heart of the discussion, as the "chief priests and scribes" themselves had proposed, precisely on the issue of exousia--power, authority, ability. If the crowd was right that John was indeed a prophet, then clearly his authority came from God. The problem is that the "chief priests and scribes" did not "believe."
Pisteuein means "faith." The word is a verb in Greek and "faith" used as a verb sounds funny in English so we typically say "believe" instead. It should be understood not as "believing" after considering rational evidence, but rather as "radical trust," an orientation of one's entire being.
The heart of Jesus' argument, then, is that exousia is about pisteuein--"authority" is about "trust." That being the case, Jesus will not tell the chief priests and scribes where he gets his authority since they've already shown that they don't trust anyway.
Parables of judgment: Next, Jesus offers three parables of judgment--one each from Special Matthew, Mark, and Q. The first, from Special Matthew, is parable of the two sons. (This text has a number of textual variants. Some early manuscripts even have the "chief priests and scribes" identifying the second son, not the first, as the one who did the will of the father.)
Jesus begins the parable by asking, "What do you think?" Let us pause to note this extraordinary development: Jesus supports free inquiry! Jesus asks people what they think at least six times in Matthew. Matthew clearly portrays Jesus as supposing that people were able to think for themselves and that their opinions are worth listening to.
He then discusses a father with two children--tekna. The father wants the children to work in his vineyard. (This recalls the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in the previous chapter.) One says no, but later, is sorry--metameletheis--and goes. The other says, tellingly, "I go, sir"--literally: "I am, Lord"--but then doesn't. (This recalls those who say, "Lord, Lord," but don't actually do what the Lord wants. See Matthew 7: 21.)
Which one did the will of the father? The "chief priests and scribes" answer "the first." This plays right into Jesus' hand. His tone takes an abrupt change from telling a simple story to one of utter seriousness and then outrage. "Truly I say to you" is an indicator that what follows is of special import--then the outrage: "Tax collectors and prostitutes go before you into the kingdom of God."
Why? Jesus then refers back to John the Baptist. John came in "the way of justice" and they, the authorities, did not "believe" him. (NRSV has "way of righteousness." Dikaiosunes can be translated as either "righteousness" or "justice," which mean roughly the same thing in a first century context. We tend, however, to view "righteousness" as personal piety and morality. This is not about that. Jesus means "way of justice.")
John, you'll remember, was leading a renewal movement outside the "authority" of the Temple. His was a "baptism" for "repentance" (3:11)--not Christian baptism as we understand it today, but rather as a cleansing and "turning" onto a new path, which is the true meaning of repentance (metanoia).
That Jesus refers to John's "way of justice" is an indicator that Jesus has in mind the actual practice of the kingdom of God--again, not intellectual assent, or even "feelings," but rather actual doing of the "way" (hodos). What is that way? Open table fellowship, radical egalitarianism, and the upending of heirarchies.
Jesus, you'll remember, had just told the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (20:1-16), an upending of heirarchies if there ever was one. He followed that by saying the mother of James and John was out of line in angling for a privileged position for her sons (20:20-23), then followed that by denouncing the authorities who "lord it over them" (20:24-25).
"It shall not be so among you!" he says (20:26), then goes on to say that those who would be first must become slaves (20:27-28), yet another radical inversion of heirarchy. Then what did he do? After entering Jerusalem, he struck at the economic power of the Temple.
Could Jesus possibly be any clearer? The way of justice involves turning the power structure of the world upside down.
Tax collectors and prostitutes got it. Of course they would. It's obviously in their interest. It's not for nothing that Jesus had a broad level of support among the people. But the "chief priests and scribes"--even after they saw it!--refused to budge, were not "sorry," and did not "believe" John.
John Meier thinks that metameletheis serves the same function as metanoia here. I'm not so sure. Matthew certainly knew of metanoia--he'd used it to describe the baptism of John--but he did not use it here.
The difference is subtle. Metanoia means to turn and move onto a new path--"the path of justice." Metameletheis is similar, but carries an additional component of regret, of being sorry.
The first son was sorry he had said no, then went to work in the vineyard. The Temple authorities, on the other hand, were not sorry, did not change their mind, and, even worse, did not "believe" John. They opposed him, colluded with the power that killed him (Herod), did not walk in the "way of justice," and were opposing God.
With this first controversy story of passion week, in his first round against those who would later in the week conspire to kill him, Jesus has leveled an exceptionally provocative and serious charge against the Temple. They are unjust! They are against God! What's more, Jesus has further solidified his association in the popular mind with their martyred hero, John the Baptist.
20‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; 4and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.*10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 13But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
Translation: For the kingdom of heaven is like a human housemaster who came out early in the morning to hire workers into his vineyard. And agreeing together with the workers (for) a denarius (per) day, he ordered them into his vineyard. And he came out around the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the place of assembly. And he said to them, "And you go out into the vineyard, and I will give you whatever (is) right." And they went out. And going out again around the sixth (hour) and ninth hour, he did in like manner. Around the eleventh (hour), he went out and he found others standing, and he said to them, "Why are you standing here all day free from labor?" They said to him, "Because no one has hired us." He said to them, "You also go into the vineyard."
When evening happened, the lord of the vineyard said to his manager, "Call the workers and pay them wages beginning from the last just as the first." And the ones going out at the eleventh hour came (and) they took a denarius apiece. And the first came supposing that they would receive more, and they received a denarius apiece. Receiving, they grumbled around the house-ruler, saying, "These last ones did one hour and you have made them equal to us, the ones who bore the burdens of day and burning heat." But he answered one of them, "Partner, I did not act unjustly to you. Did you not agree with me a denarius? Take up (what belongs to you) and go. I desire to give these last the same as you. Is it not lawful to do what I wish with what is mine? Or is your eye evil because I am good? In this manner, the last will be first and the first last."
Background and situation: The passage appears only in Matthew. Immediately preceding our lection, Peter asks Jesus what the disciples will get for having left everything to follow him (19:27-30). Jesus tells Peter that "at the renewal of all things," the disciples will sit on twelves thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Not only that, they will receive "100 fold," and eternal life to boot.
Following this episode is the third statement of the passion of Jesus, the one featuring the mother of James and John who angles to get special treatment for her boys (20:17-28). She wants her sons to be at Jesus' right and left hand when the kingdom comes.
Seen as part of one long discourse, the three episodes highlight the question of reward. The reward will be stupendous, but that is still not quite the whole story. Indeed, "many who are first will be last, and the last will be first" (19:30). Then follows the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in which the last hired receive the same reward as those who were first.
The "goodness" of God: The vineyard is an oft-used symbol for Israel (Is 5, Jer 12). The owner of the vineyard, the "house-ruler"--oikodespotace--is God. The "house-ruler" makes five trips into town to hire day-laborers to work in the vineyard. He pays a denarius, "the usual daily wage." (The "house-ruler" pays the first a denarius, but offers "whatever is right" to all the rest.)
The contrast is between the "first" and the "last." The last hired are clearly paid first so that the first hired will see what has happened. Otherwise, what difference would it make? The "house-ruler" wants everyone to know what he has done.
Grumbling ensues. The "house-ruler" hears the grumbling and responds to one of the grumblers whom he calls etairos--"partner, comrade, friend." The "house-ruler" denies doing wrong. The contract he had made with the "first" is fulfilled. Moreover, the "house-ruler" asserts his freedom to pay the rest whatever he pleases--"whatever is right."
Then, the "house-ruler" asks this strange question: "Or is your eye evil because I am good?" (The NRSV, wrongly, has, "Or are you envious because I am generous?")
The word "good"--agathos--is framed by the words ego and eimi. Ego eimi is the Greek translation of the tetragrammaton, YHWH, the name of God revealed to Moses. In other words, ego eimi is the name of the God of Israel.
That the word agathos--"good"--is placed "inside" of the ego eimi is to confirm what Matthew had just written in 19:17: "One (God) is good." If Matthew means the "house-ruler" to be God, then the ego agathos eimi is not sarcastic. The "house-ruler" is God, and God is good.
One would suppose that God's goodness would manifest itself as justice, treating each according to what they deserve. According to the usual standards of what constitutes justice, the first hired have a strong case against the "house-ruler". They have been treated unfairly.
But, no, God's "goodness" is not revealed as justice, but as mercy. Themes of justice abound throughout the parable, but the fullness of that justice comes to expression as equal treatment for all. The overflowing generosity of God's love ignores all human merit.
Alternative view: That's one interpretation. Obery Hendricks offers another. He notes, first of all, what the story tells us about working conditions in first century Israel. People work from dawn to dusk for a denarius.
This was indeed the "usual daily wage," but it was not a living wage. Compare today's "minimum wage" with a true living wage and you get some sense of the difference. A denarius was just about enough to keep you coming back for another day of work so you (perhaps) can survive to work another day.
Furthermore, there is a sizeable pool of day laborers in the story. At each point of the day, workers are available. Even at 5:00 in the afternoon, some are still in the day labor market. This indicates a sizeable number of unemployed--a sizeable pool, in other words, of people who are reduced to scrambling for any little bit of work they can get.
Clearly, for Hendricks, the housemaster is not God, but more akin to a plantation owner. By offering the pittance of a denarius, the housemaster is exploiting labor. The housemaster apparently has an exceptionally large vineyard. (He keeps coming for more workers.) How could the housemaster have attained all that property if not by foreclosing on peasant debt?
Then, to top it off, the housemaster cops an attitude when talking with the last chosen. "Why are you standing around idle?", he asks, all but calling them lazy. He presumes that they are unemployed because of some choice, as if he didn't know that they were unemployed in the first place because they had been forced off their land.
In paying the last the same as the first, the housemaster insults those who were first hired. When the first "grumble," the housemaster singles out their leader--the text says he spoke to "one of them"--denies doing wrong, and then fires him. "Take what belongs to you and go." The housemaster adopts an all-too-typical strategy: Fire the union organizer.
Hendricks makes a valuable contribution to understanding the parable. We shouldn't automatically assume that the housemaster is God. (The text specifically identifies him as anthropo, a human being.) Nor should we too readily adopt the first interpretation mentioned above without considering that other interpretations are possible.
Etairos: Whichever interpretation one opts for will likely be influenced on how one interprets etairos, which NRSV translates as "friend" in verse 13. Hendricks says that etairos is not a positive greeting. It's on the order of "fella" or "buster." Robert Capon sometimes uses etairos in this way also.
Matthew uses etairos in only three places--here, in 22:12 where it refers to the guest at a wedding banquet who refuses to wear the wedding garment, and in 26:50 where it refers to Judas, the arch-traitor. None would be considered a positive example.
On the other hand, the most common rendering of etairos is as "friend, comrade, partner," particularly as it applies to fellow laborers or servants. Etairos is not so much the designation of a personal friend, but more as a partner in some enterprise.
If Hendricks is right that the use of "friend" is sarcastic, that would support his argument that the land-owner is haughty and dismissive. If the Gingrich Lexicon is right, the first are considered "partners" with God in the management of the vineyard.
I find Hendricks' thesis plausible, but finally opt for the first interpretation on the basis of the ego agathos eimi, which, to me, clearly refers back to the pronouncement that only God is "good." If the house-ruler is correct, and speaking without irony, that would make God the owner of the vineyard.
In any case, in either interpretation, the parable comes down on the side of subverting class-based heirarchies. "The last will be first and the first last." If the housemaster is God, then God's mercy reigns supreme, and God's mercy is what constitutes God's "goodness." If the housemaster is a plantation owner, the parable is clearly a slam at economic exploitation of the poor by the rich.
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Translation: Then came Peter (and) said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin into me and I will forgive him? Until seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not, I say to you, seven times, but until seventy times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven was like a human king who wished to reckon together a word with his slaves. But when he had begun to reckon, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents. But, not having (the means) to pay him, the lord commanded him, and his wife, and the children, and all he has to be delivered over. Falling, therefore, the slave was worshipping him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will deliver over all to you.' And the lord of that slave, moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt. But, going out, the same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii and he held (and) was choking him, saying, 'Deliver over what you owe.' Then, falling down, his fellow slave was beseeching him, saying, 'Have patience upon me, and I will deliver over to you.' But he was not willing, but went to throw him into prison until he might pay back the debt. Then, when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and went and told their lord all that had happened. Then his lord called him (and) said to him, 'Wicked slave. I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave just as I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, delivered him over to the tormenters until he might deliver over all the debt. And this my Father in heaven will do to each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
Background and situation: The passage appears only in Matthew. The immediate context, beginning in 18:1, concerns conflict in the church. First, the focus is on children and "little ones." Then, the focus shifts to a member of the church who sins against another.
Last week's lection, 18:15-20, spelled out the procedure for handling a case of (presumably) one sin against another person: first, go to the person and discuss the matter between the two of you; if that doesn't work, take witnesses; if that doesn't work and the old coot refuses to listen to the church, he may then be regarded "as a gentile and a tax collector."
Our lection this week, 18:21-35, moves the discussion from the recalcitrant sinner--the one who won't admit he was wrong--to the sinner who keeps repeating sins. Peter, the leader of the disciples, steps forward to ask the question: "OK, now we know how we handle cranky old Uncle Edgar. What about cousin Elroy who keeps on sinning?"
The Old Testament figure of Lamech (Gen 4:23-24) called for vengeance "seventy times seven." Jesus reverses this verdict by calling for "seventy times seven" forgiveness. This is, as is well known, unlimited forgiveness. (The number of completion, 7, multiplied by itself, and that further intensified by taking times ten. Think "beyond infinity".)
The parable of the unforgiving slave: Why unlimited forgiveness? For "this reason," Jesus says (dia touto): It's like a human king who wished "to reckon together"--sunarai--with his slaves. Sunarai means to "take up together, bring together, settle accounts."
The king is a bookkeeper. He wants to "settle accounts" with his slaves. Bookkeeping is concerned with justice, that each person should get what they deserve.
Father Robert Capon, who sees what he considers the bookkeeping heresy in just about every parable (and quite properly so), says the king is one who, like all bookkeeppers, will have high regard for the upright and the solvent, "but for anyone in real trouble, he will have no care at all except to get his money back as best he can."
Bookkeeping is an attempt at self-justification, as if to say: Here's all the reasons I'm a swell person: member of the church council, sing in the choir, pay my bills, and hold out a stray dollar bill every now and then when passing a beggar on the street. It assumes justice.
The point of nearly all the parables is that this is not God's way of doing things. God throws all those account books right out the window on the basis of the death and resurrection of his son. God deals with the world through grace and mercy and not through justice--not through what we deserve, in other words. (Which, though aggravating at times as it applies to other people, is really in our own interests since we're no better).
One of the lord's slaves owes him an unimaginable sum, ten thousand talents. A talent was the largest single unit of that time, and 10,000 the largest number used to count. It is meant to be an incredible number. (Literally speaking, ten thousand talents would be 150,000 years worth of wages in the first century world, and about two-and-a-quarter trillion dollars in today's money.)
The slave can't pay--even Bill Gates couldn't foot this bill--and he, his wife, his kids, and all he has are to be sold so that the king can get less than a penny back on the dollar. (Probably an irrelevant question: How did he run up such a bill in the first place?)
Ten thousand talents was also the tax demanded by Rome when Rome conquered the region in 63 BC. It was an amount so onerous that Julius Caesar eventually reduced it. (I consider it not a coincidence that Jesus mentions an amount that would have been well-known to many: the money Rome said we had to pay.)
The slaves falls to his knees, begs for patience, and promises he'll pay. The slave, keep in mind, is a full supporter of the system which put him in this precarious position. He apparently played fast and loose with a lot of money, and now, that having failed, tries the only manuever left to him: begging combined with an imploring little speech. He's still trying to work an angle.
To the shock of everyone, the king abruptly repents. The meaning of metanoia, a word we usually translate as "repent," means "turning and moving in a new direction." Metanoia does not appear in this text, but that's what the king does. He shifts, turns, repents, does a 180.
The king tosses one worldview out the window and takes up another one--not accounts and justice this time, but grace and compassion instead. The king dropped dead to his old way of doing things, and threw the account books out the window. He "forgave the debt (apheken)."
The slave, however, didn't get the message and did not repent. He thought it was his dramatic little speech that turned the stupid king around. He congratulated himself, no doubt, on his smooth-talking con. The system works!
It's no wonder, then, that when he saw a fellow slave who owed him 100 denarii, he demanded payment. (100 denarii would be about 4 months wages, a not inconsiderable amount, but way less than the national debt.)
The bookkeeping system, not surprisingly, can erupt into violence. The slave seizes his fellow slave, starts choking him, and demands payment. The word "fellow slave" (sundoulone) appears four times in five verses, almost as though mocking the unforgiving slave who can't see that he's in the same boat as his fellows.
His "fellow slaves", observing all this, were "greatly distressed" and went to the king, who was himself outraged. "Wicked slave," he says, called "wicked" not because he lost money but because he wouldn't forgive. "I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave just as I had mercy on you?"
Not "moved with compassion" this time, but rather "moved with anger," the king tossed the unforgiving servant to "the tormentors." (Basanizo: "one who elicits the truth by the use of the rack, an inquisitor, torturer.") The unforgiving slave sees the violence he had inflicted on others now directed back at himself.
"And this my Father in heaven will do to each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart," says the Lord Jesus. Of course. We should not be surprised by these words.
If we are unforgiving, we buy into the same worldview as the bookkeeping heresy: What matters are the accounts. We may need violence to protect them. If that's the way we continue to go, which we no doubt will, we will continue to be "tormented."
There is, however, a better way, which is forgiveness, and her sisters grace, mercy, compassion, and peace. It's how God works and what Jesus teaches, which he does forthrightly, directly, and, on every occasion, unequivocally. When it comes to forgiveness, there is never a loophole and never an option. It is always: you must forgive.
This is not a matter of going through the motions. The unforgiving servant was trying to play on his king's sentimental weakness with a manipulative little speech, all the while believing in the principles of the bookkeeping system. He had no intention of changing his worldview, only of working an angle on it to get himself off the hook.
No, forgiveness must be "from your heart." Which means it can only be done in light of the kingdom, in light of the new reality inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Outside of that, it's not possible. Even inside, it's a tall order. But order it is.
With that, this section of Matthew dealing with church conflict is brought to a close. This is the final word on church conflict, the bottom line of which is forgiveness.
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Translation: But if your brother or sister might sin against you, go refute him between you and him alone. If he hears you, you regained your brother. But if you might not be heard, take with you yet one or two so that upon two or three mouths witnessing each word might be established. But if he might be unwilling to hear them, speak to the church, and if he refuses to listen to the church, he is to you just as a gentile or a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, "Whatever you might bind on the earth, it will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose upon the earth will be loosed in heaven." Again, truly I say to you that if two out of you might agree on the earth about anything they might ask, it will come to them with my Father in heaven, for where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them."
Background and situation: The lection is mostly Special M with a bit of Q thrown in (see Luke 17: 3). Obviously, conflict in the church was an issue in the community around Matthew. Matthew has previously discussed care for children and "little ones" in 18:1-14. In today's lection, he shifts to care for the sinful brother or sister.
The word for "sin" is hamartia. The word came originally from the world of archery and means "missing the mark." "Sin" is not limited to morality, in other words, but involves a failure to hit the target, i.e. a failure to become the people we were created to be. Matthew gets no more specific than that.
Matthew reaches into the Hebrew tradition--Deuteronomy 19, Leviticus 19--for guidelines on how do deal with community "friction." The Qumran community had a similar procedure for dealing with conflict, also based in Deuteronomy 19. Deuteronomy 19: 15ff:
"A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing...Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. If a malicious witness comes forward to accuse someone of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges...and the judges shall make a thorough inquiry. If the witness is a false witness...then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other. So you shall purge the evil from your midst."
Toward reconciliation: The first step in the process is to go to the person directly. Matthew encourages honest and direct communication.
Sadly, it must be said that most of our conflicts are not handled in this way. Much of our communication is indirect, as in whispers to third parties, and dishonest, as in malicious gossip. This is a very unhealthy way to communicate and almost guarantees misunderstanding and further conflict.
Churches are especially prone to this form of social unhealthiness. People want to get word back to somebody about something or other, but don't want to face them directly, so they put their argument out to third parties who then speak to others--"...a lot of people are saying..."--and then somehow expect the pastor or the staff to make things come out right, i.e. to their way of thinking.
The issue has an amorphous and unspecified source and quite likely becomes distorted, or, more likely, further distorted, in the course of whispered parking lot conversations. This can roil a congregation, yet without anyone's fingerprints being on it.
Contrary to what some people think, Jesus did not call his followers to be children, but rather adults. Adult communication is characterized by responsibility, by having something to say and taking ownership when you say it. This is at least partly what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was talking about when he referred to "a world come of age." In "a world come of age," people act in freedom and with autonomy while also taking responsibility for their actions.
Going to a person directly does several things: The one who is sinned against will be on the turf of the offender. Meeting them on their ground treats the offender with respect. It allows them the possibility of being able to save face.
Taking the initiative and going to the offender also accepts responsibility for the condition of the relationship. Somebody has to be first, for cryin' out loud. The communication itself is likely to be more clear and direct. Misunderstandings may be worked out directly in private rather than exacerbated indirectly in public.
And yes, one is quite likely to "regain" their brother or sister. In the vast majority of cases that I have witnessed myself, reconciliation is nearly always exactly what happens, and reconciliation is the clear goal of today's lection.
On the off-chance that step one doesn't work, however, then the rest of the Deuteronomy 19 process is to be followed. Take witnesses so that "every word" might be verified. If that doesn't do it, go to the church--the ekkesia, the assembly--and, if the "poor miserable sinner" won't listen to the church, the church is perfectly justified in excommunicating that person. "Let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector."
Except...except that Jesus has already expanded his mission to gentiles (15: 21-28), and tradition holds that the author of the very passage we are reading was himself once a tax collector.
Is Matthew writing tongue-in-cheek? That person may be to you, and to the church, "as a gentile and a tax collector," but then again, the assembly of Christ never gives up on anyone and Matthew himself is a good example. (This position is even clearer when seen in light of the following verses where Jesus tells Peter to forgive "seventy times times.")
Leviticus 19: 17 also lies behind this text--"You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself...you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Our lection uses elegxo, translated as "point out the fault" in NRSV. This is the same word the Septuagint uses in Leviticus 19, translated "reprove" in the NRSV.)
Most people are afraid of conflict, and, considering the way conflict is normally handled, it's easy to see why. Unhealthy conflict, the kind characterized by indirect communication, often undermines and tears down. Healthy conflict, on the other hand, is capable of building up in such a way that relationships are not only restored, but renewed and deepened.
The goal is always reconciliation motivated by love. Each church is an "outpost" of the kingdom. The new reign of God is to be modeled in our congregations as a sign to the world of the power of Christ to heal wounds and end divisions. Christ has reconciled the world to himself, and now this "ministry of reconciliation" has been given to us, said Paul.
Bypass the priests: There is a subtle "anti-heirarchical" bent to today's lection. In the Deuteronomy passage, the second-stage appeal goes to the priests and judges. In the Matthean passage, "one or two" of unspecified rank are called to be witnesses. Score a point for egalitarianism.
Likewise, the passage exalts a high Christology. In the time of Jesus, it was believed that whenever even a few Hebrews discussed the Torah, the divine presence--the shekinah--was with them. In Matthew, the "two or three" are not gathered around Torah, but Christ himself. They are gathered "in my name." Further, the shekinah is replaced with Christ himself--"I am in the midst of them."
Lastly, the text says that "if two of you agree about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." It goes on to say, "for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Does this not anticipate the reconciliation of the wayward party?
The Republicans have a good ad running against Governor John Hickenlooper--yes, the one featuring the Governor and President Obama playing pool. The content is not that whoopy, but it's watchable and takes a clever angle, so to speak.
The Hickenlooper campaign countered it with this brilliant ad, one that sticks to Hick's pledge not to run negative ads, while at the same time deftly skewering the opposition:
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?27 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
Translation: From then on, Jesus began to show his disciples that it is necessary (for) him to depart into Jerusalem, and to suffer greatly from the pastors and chief priests and lawyers, and be surely killed, and on the third day be raised up. And Peter, taking him aside, began to censure him, saying, "Mercy to you, Lord. Surely this will not happen to you." He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me for you do not understand the things of God but the things of humanity."
Then he said to his disciples, "If anyone desires to follow after me, let that one deny themselves and raise up their cross and follow me. For if that one desires his life saved he will destroy it, but the one who might destroy his life on account of me will eventually get it. For what will it benefit them if they might gain the whole universe but their life might suffer loss? Or what will a person give in return for their life?"
For the son of man intends to be coming in the glory of his father with his angels, and then he will deliver each according to his doings. Truly, I say to you, some are standing in this place, the ones who will surely not be tasting of death until they might see the son of man coming in his kingdom."
Background and situation: Matthew has three statements concerning the passion of Jesus--16: 21-28, 17: 22-33, 20: 17-19. His source was Mark--the parallels are Mark 8:31-38, 9: 31-32, 10: 33-34.
This section of Matthew's gospel, which began in 14:1, is characterized by increasing controversy, and a darkening mood. The cross, which has been looming in the background ever since Herod's rampage against the innocents (2:16), now comes increasingly to the fore.
The issue of the cross: It seems odd to say, but the cross was an issue for the people of the early church. For Jewish Christians, to be "hung on a tree" was associated with an ancient curse. Paul refers to it in Gal 3: 13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’" (The reference is Dt 21:23.)
That was one thing. The other was that the Romans used crucifixions as a campaign of domestic terror against anyone plotting against Rome's interests. It was a humiliating and gruesome way to die. No Roman citizen could be crucified. It was only for slaves and political rebels. The message was clear: This is what happens to people who rebel. Do so at your supreme peril.
The cross did not become a popular image for Christianity until the 5th century. The earliest image of Jesus portrays him as the good shepherd, not the crucified. The earliest known image of the cross is a piece of grafitti making fun of the very idea of the divinity dying on one.
The cross needed explanation. Mark and Matthew have Jesus trying to break his own disciples in on the idea. It is said here first, has to be repeated twice, and they still don't get it. (This week's lection says Jesus "began to show" his disciples that the cross was coming, apparently with the idea that it would take some repetition.)
Mark and Matthew say: It was not as it appears. It was not the inglorious and humiliating death of our leader, our master, our lord, and our movement! It was, rather, "necessary" (dei) that this happen. The messiah is the messiah precisely because he suffers and he loses all. (The phrase regarding "suffering" is explicit and emphasized in the Greek text. The Greek "be killed"--apoktanthenai--carries the sense not only of death, but also annihilation and "complete perishing.")
Peter as Satan: In Mark, both Peter's confession and his subsequent rebuke by Jesus are held together closely. Matthew generally follows Mark, but, in this case, softens the anti-Petrine position of Mark by inserting a paragraph on the new name, Peter, that Jesus gives Simon, and then asserting Peter's central role in the church (16:13-20).
When Jesus says that he will suffer and be killed, Peter speaks (unlike in Mark) and says: "Mercy to you, Lord. Surely this will not happen to you." The NRSV has "God forbid it." NIV has "Never, Lord!" The word is helios, which means "mercy"--more specifically, God's mercy. Peter is calling for God to protect Jesus.
In Mark, Jesus is specifically said to "rebuke" Peter. In Matthew, Jesus does not rebuke Peter. Instead, he simply "said" to Peter: "Get behind me, Satan"--yupage opiso mou, satana.
The temptation to power and glory was Satan's idea in the first place (4:8). It was the last of three temptations in the wilderness. The temptation, we remember, was to assert divine perogative in order to make things come out well for Jesus. (He could be the benevolent dictator of the cosmos, which, actually, most of us would favor.)
Already in the 4th chapter, the idea of avoiding suffering and the cross so that Jesus himself would be better off is associated with the "satanic," which is why Jesus refers to Peter as satan here. He "must" (dei) go to Jerusalem (16:21). This is a divine imperative, and he is not to be diverted by appeals on behalf of his personal safety.
While Matthew's view of Peter is, over-all, more positive than Mark's, it should be noted that Peter does not get off the hook in Matthew. As Peter was taking Jesus aside, Jesus "turned" and, it would appear, called Peter a "stumbling block" right to his face--from "rock" (16:18) to "stumbling block" (16:23) in only five verses!
The cross is laid on every person: In Mark, Jesus addresses crowds at this point. In Matthew, he addresses only the disciples. If any want to follow Jesus, he says, they should take up "their cross." I interpret ton stauron autou--literally, "the cross of him"--in two ways:
(1) Earlier in Matthew, Jesus had said that his followers can expect no different fate than that of their master. Most of chapter 10 is about the difficulties that will be faced by his followers.
They will "hand you over" (10:16)--the same phrase will be used about Jesus when he is "handed over" to his persecutors. They will "flog" you. You will be hated. "A disciple is not above the teacher," he says in 10:24. His followers can expect the same treatment as Jesus.
Later, in 10: 38-9, Jesus says, "And whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Those words will be stated again in this context.)
This is rather classic exhortation to a beleaguered minority. Hang in there. Stay loyal. No matter how bad it gets, keep the faith!
(2) The word "him" (autou) is genitive--literally, "cross of him." "Him" could refer to Jesus, in which case the reference is to the cross of Jesus. On the other hand, the context seems to infer "him" as the individual follower--not Jesus' cross, in this case, but the burdens that come with being a human being. Every person has issues. They are to be dealt with, not swept under the rug.
Take up the struggles of your life, yes, but note as well that Jesus never glorifies suffering simply for the sake of suffering. Life is tough enough as it is. Besides, buying in to that kind of logic is eminently a human way of thinking, to wit: "If it takes suffering to be a great Christian, I'll be the champion sufferer of all time." Suffering is not an achievement. There are crosses enough in life without making them on purpose.
The "things of God" vs. the "things of humanity": Human standards are about striving and achieving, becoming king of the hill, or having the most money. One should resist making a moral judgment about this. The impulse to strive and achieve has at least some evolutionary advantage. The ones who did so tended to survive.
That's one reason a lot of what Jesus had to say went right over peoples' heads. He talked to them about a different way, one that was not, it appeared, in one's social or financial interests, and one that was not, it was sure, in one's survival interests. Who helps the poor? There's no advantage in that.
It took some creative thinking for people to begin to realize that maybe "the way we've always done things" is not really life-giving. It took a real leap of insight--then and (especially) now--for some of Jesus' ideas to even begin to sink in.
In human ways of thinking--the default survival mechanisms embedded in our ways of thinking and acting--the one who saves their life saves it. The one who gains the whole universe gains the whole dang universe, and everybody else has to figure out a way to get their own universe.
Jesus completely upends all customary conceptions of gain and loss. True life is not in getting but in giving. Trying to save your life--looking out for yourself--is the path of destruction. The one who lives like Jesus--one who gives for others--will "receive" life. Where's the benefit if you own everything, but have no life?
The promise: Jesus is going to come with the angels "in the glory of his Father." Power and majesty are on their way--Oh frabjous day!
And when he comes, he will "repay everyone for what has been done." Clunk. (Or better: Lutherans will feel a clunk. We get neuralgic at the merest hint of any reward being given to any human effort.)
This is not about that. Matthew means these words as words of reassurance. There will be a reward for the sacrifice of Jesus' disciples. Even though there may be dark days ahead, calling for every reserve of emotional, physical, and spiritual strength, nevertheless God knows their trials, and God will reward their endurance.
The lection concludes with these puzzling words: "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew is writing in AD 80, or thereabouts. He knew full well that some people had indeed died before Jesus came in the fullness of his kingdom.
He is not talking about timetables regarding the so-called second coming. He's talking about the transfiguration of Jesus, which immediately follows, and, more broadly, the resurrection itself. "Some standing here" would have included Peter, James, and John. In six days--and in the very next verse!--these three of the disciples will see Jesus in his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.