Summary: Every person in America believes that they are the final authority on who Jesus is, period. Our downfall? When one is the final authority, all others must be sidelined.
In high school I was on the track team – I was a sprinter. Our coach would make us sprinters run long distance as well as run sprints for practice. We hated running long distance, it was so boring, it was so tedious, we felt it was against our nature. But still we had to run a three mile loop that the coach had assigned to us every practice.
We soon discovered that we could cut the three mile loop in half if we cut though a couple of vineyards. I was a simple matter of taking a right turn and running about 200 yards through one vineyard hopping a barbed wire fence and then running about another 200 yards through the next vineyard. We all decided we would take the shortcut the next day.
Now if you have never been in a vineyard, understand that the grape vines can be quite thick and quite tall. They run in these long rows. The vines in this vineyard were over five feet tall and fairly dense, they grew on a wire trellis – it was like running between huge hedges.
It seemed like simple matter of a quick shortcut, except for the vineyard caretaker who lived in a house in the vineyard. On our run the next day we turned into the vineyard excited about our brilliant shortcut. The vineyard caretaker laid in wait until we were about 100 yards into the first vineyard, then the side door of his house burst open, the caretaker stepped out, shotgun in hand. He wasted no time – KABLAM! Fortunately we were some distance from the caretakers house, but, that rock salt he hit us with still hurt like the dickens.
It is amazing how fast you can run, and how easily you can leap over a barbed wire fence when someone behind you is reloading a shotgun. After a few more tries of running through the vineyard, we figured out the range of his shotgun and were able to stay out of its reach (yes, as dumb high school kids we tried again and again). Still, every time we took the shortcut, I ran through that vineyard as though my life depended on it.
The vineyard caretaker probably knew he couldn’t keep us out of the vineyard, but if he kept us moving we couldn’t eat any grapes. He was doing his job, keeping the vines safe so the owner could have a good profit at harvest time. Unlike the vineyard caretakers in Jesus’ parable, this man did his job, he represented the owner, he kept us on the run - the caretakers of the vineyard in Jesus’ parable did not represent the owner. In fact they not only didn’t represent the owner, they tried to usurp the owner and take his rightful place.
Yes, this passage is about Jesus being the Messiah and Jesus being the rightful authority as opposed to the religious leaders of the day, but this passage is also about you and about me, especially you and I as Americans. See, as the religious leaders of the day thought they were the final authority and they enriched themselves with that perceived authority, we as Americans see ourselves as the final authority, to the damage of our Christian walk. Are we living like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day who were overconfident in their authority?
Let’s look a our Scripture today and see what God has there for our lives.
Starting in verses 27/28 we see that Jesus has arrived back in Jerusalem and is walking through the Temple. Remember, last time Jesus was there at the Temple He drove out all the merchants from the court of the Gentiles and would not let anyone bring merchandise through. Also, remember that the merchants were there because they had the ok by the Temple authorities. There is also the possibility that those who let the merchants do business in the Temple saw some profit from it – in other words, some sort of fee for right to do business may have exchanged hands between the merchants and the Temple authorities.
With all this in mind, we see Jesus strolling through the Temple, the same Temple that He threw merchants out of the day before, the exact same Temple where He caused a big brouhaha Jesus the day before…here we see Jesus waltzing right back in, like nothing had ever happened. Jesus, by showing His face again the next day shows that He clearly had no remorse for the incident, why? Because He felt He was in the right AND that He had the authority to do so.
The religious authorities don’t see it that way. So upon seeing that Jesus is back at the Temple, they question him. It is clear that this is not a spontaneous question that comes occurs to them as the spot Jesus; It is a question that has arisen as a result of their discussion about the conduct of Jesus. Now, they could have questioned a long list of things couldn’t have they? But what they choose to question is His authority. Why is that? Because they feel they are the authority, in fact they feel they are the final authority. The absolute final authority. Who is this Jesus, poor son of a carpenter from Nazareth? Who is He to make any demands in this Temple? Look, let’s be frank, to people in Jerusalem being from Nazareth as about as cultured as, for us here in Anchorage, as a guy coming from Chicken, Alaska….ok, that’s not fair…maybe Yukon Territory, in the middle of nowhere, Canada. Jesus was a country bumpkin in their eyes and what they saw was some bubba hillbilly coming into the most sacred place in all of Israel causing trouble. Who did He think He was?