Thursday, May 1, 2008

When the kindgom comes, the fruit's already there.

I ran across a reading of Matthew 21: 43, which said, "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits."

Now, I've looked at various Bibles, and it's also translated as the kingdom will be given to a people who will produce the fruit. I have no idea how the Greek works here, especially since I'm seeing both ways in a lot of Bibles.

There's also the context to consider. The quote itself falls amidst a parable of the landowner, who has a vineyard (with a wall put around it, dug a wine press, and builds a tower), rents it out, and goes on a journey. When the harvest comes, the landowner sends his slaves to receive the produce. One slave is beaten, one killed, one stoned. Another group of slaves is sent, and the same occurs. The landowner sends his son, figuring that the son will do okay. The renters say that they will kill the heir, and seize the heir's inheritance, and do that. Jesus then asks what the landowner will do when he finally arrives at the vineyard.

The Pharisees say that the current tenants will get what they deserve, and the landowner will rent out the land again to people who will actually cooperate, and pay what's due to the landowner at the proper time.

Jesus asks if they've never heard of the stone that the builders rejected becomes the chief cornerstone, it came from the Lord and is marvelous to the eyes. At that point, Jesus says that the kingdom will be removed from the Pharisees, and given to those who produce/are producing/will produce the fruit.

What if it is given to a people already producing the fruit? Can people produce the fruit of the kingdom before even being given the kingdom? If so, what does this do with the idea that true good fruit can only occur after one is saved?

I'm also wondering what 'fruits' are referred to here. I'm assuming that the tenants were working the land, and simply not giving any of the produce back to the actual owner. So literal fruit was produced. Therefore, more than just developing the land, and using the land for its literal purpose, must be required. Recognition of the owner's rights must be taken into account. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the land, and thus the produce, wasn't the tenants in the first place? They were simply renting?

7 comments:

DagoodS said...

One frustrating aspect of the parables of Jesus is how current doctrine makes such simple mincemeat of them. (Obviously I am not saying this of you.) “Oh, this is about how God (landowner) tried to tell the Jews (tenants) by prophets (slaves) and the tenants (Jews) killed the slaves (Prophets) and eventually killed the son (Jesus.) But since the landowner (God) was still alive, he threw the tenants (Jews) out on their ear, and gave the land to the new tenants (Gentiles/Christians.)” Swipe hands. Smile smugly. Go on to the next verse.

It is so much more complicated than that. First of all, one would need to understand the economic situation of the time. Many landowners were “absentee landlords” in that they would live in the city, and either hire workers or rent land to peasants who would actually work the agriculture. The landowners who be sustained by the work of the peasants.

But we also have to understand how hard these people would work. It is estimated 1/3 of the crop would be used for next years seeding. 1/4 of the crop for feeding of livestock. 10-15% of the crop would be used in taxes. This left less than 1/3 of the crop to eat. But of that, the tenant would also have to pay and support the landowner! They were literally on the point of starvation, and the slightest increase in either rent or taxes or bad weather would have fatal effects.

The other interesting aspect is to keep in mind who Jesus was allegedly talking to—peasants! While the point of the story was clearly to skewer the Pharisees, we tend to read it as the landlord being the “good guy” whereas peasants would generally consider the landlord being the “bad guy.” While the landlord, by providing the land, was giving them an economic necessity—he was also part of the problem by demanding the rent!

Further, if the landlord and all the heirs were eliminated—the tenants would have no one to object to their seizure of the land. They would no longer have to pay rents. From the peasant standpoint, they may be nodding their heads at the actions of the tenants in this parable—giving approval to the wisdom of the choices.

We Americans tend to put ourselves in the place of the rich in the parables. Curious, eh?

By the way, this is supported by the Gospel of Thomas which does not clearly demark who is the “bad guy” in the saying—that it may have been the landowner asking too much in rent.

It is also interesting to see the development of this parable from Mark to Matthew to Luke. The fact that Matthew (“You killed the prophets” Matt. 23:37) has servants killed at every outing, whereas Mark and Luke (and Thomas) do not. How Luke (and Thomas) drop the Isaiah 5 reference.

Finally, as to your question regarding “nation”—there are no variants on ethnei I could find—so this is a matter of translators interpreting the work. It is singular, indicating a group or distinct people. I would think, by the time Matthew was written, this parable was modified by the author of Matthew to bolster the recipients’ perception they were the proper replacement for the Jews. (As you know, I veer from standard scholarly consensus here and think Matthew was written to a primarily gentile audience.)

Believe it or not, I think the simple doctrinal point of “Bad Tenants (Jews); Good replacement tenants (Gentile/Christians) is exactly what the author of Matthew intended. I’m not so convinced about Mark, Luke or Thomas—but certainly Matthew tries to make this point evident.

As to producing fruit prior to being in the kingdom (i.e., prior to becoming the new tenants) this would be far too complex for Matthew’s audience. They figured they were already in the position of being the new tenants, and therefore already producing fruit. Why worry about the nuance of how to produce fruit prior to being in the kingdom since that does not apply to them now?

societyvs said...

I had to read this in all 3 of the gospels (excluding John) to see what the parable were saying - and they really weren't that different (Dagoods made me think they would be quite different in writing).

(1) "given to a people, producing the fruit of it" (NASB)

Jesus seems to be making a point about being a worker in this 'vineyard' - producing fruit from it. It's not that the first group were not producing fruit - they were (that's actually not the problem here) - but it's the 'play on words' that is used.

The 'real fruit' that was the problem was the intentions of the first group - beating people and then killing one of them (for greedy purposes). Jesus is concerned with this 'fruit' (results of one's beliefs). Thye vineyard was producing fruit - but so were the worker's.

(2) "Can people produce the fruit of the kingdom before even being given the kingdom?" (OSS)

I don't think this is the intention of that sentence per se - but I know what you are getting at...in order to transfer the work of the vineyard it has to go to other skilled viners. I agree, the people would have to be 'bearing' the fruits already so the landowner could have confidence in their work. And Jesus refers to the 'fruit of one's character' (in this play on words) - and these people must have decent character he wants to move the kingdom towards. Or maybe the teachings are just that good - they can produce the character no matter who is reading them?

(3) "Maybe it has to do with the fact that the land, and thus the produce, wasn't the tenants in the first place? They were simply renting?" (OSS)

The tenants were removable - they obviously do not own the land (in matthew they are 'renting' the land). They had a choice to make to stay - and in the parable - they make a choice that cost them the rights to continue to be a 'renter'. Again, this is a parable.

(4)"THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone"

Jesus' point concerning the parable. It's a matter of authority/importance if you ask me - and that's about it. The cornerstone holds the house in regulation - it's truly essential. Jesus seems to be saying he has the authority to 'stretch the kingdom of God' to where he pleases.

(5) "And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."

This is the wrap up point of this parable - concerning this cornerstone idea...and the kingdom. I have no clue what this really means. Dismantaling one's life via connection to God and judgment via disconnection from God? I never quite got it.

OneSmallStep said...

DagoodS,

**One frustrating aspect of the parables of Jesus is how current doctrine makes such simple mincemeat of them.**

I see this happening to more than just the parables (though I realize you would include everything, only you narrowed it to the parables, since I'm discussing one). I came across a website once that said when Jesus asked people the questions of what they wanted, he obviously already knew since he was God, so he was asking for the other person's benefit or something. But nothing in the scene itself hinted that Jesus already knew the question. Rather, it read that Jesus didn't know, and so asked the person, as anyone would.

**Further, if the landlord and all the heirs were eliminated—the tenants would have no one to object to their seizure of the land.**

I noticed on a second reading that part of the inhertence would have to include the land the tenants were already working on ... so then the tenants were already in the kingdom, apparently.

**Why worry about the nuance of how to produce fruit prior to being in the kingdom since that does not apply to them now?**

Especially if they thought the second coming would occur at any moment ...

But thank you for the elaboration on the economic system.

Society,

**It's not that the first group were not producing fruit - they were (that's actually not the problem here)**

Hmm. Are we assuming that, though? When I read it, I used to think that the tenants had something to pay, but the text doesn't actually say that (granted, it's a perfectly valid assumption, since if the tenants didn't work, they didn't eat). But maybe they're killing everyone because they have nothing to produce, evne literally, and don't want to be evicted.

**I don't think this is the intention of that sentence per se - but I know what you are getting at**

Correct, but as you said, you understood what I was getting at:
the landlord would want validation that the workers have already produced fruit before renting out his land.

**The cornerstone holds the house in regulation - it's truly essential. Jesus seems to be saying he has the authority to 'stretch the kingdom of God' to where he pleases. **

I also find the use of "builders" interesting here. The stone was given to the builders, and the builders decided not to use it. But they were already builders prior to receiving the stone.

**I have no clue what this really means. Dismantaling one's life via connection to God and judgment via disconnection from God? I never quite got it.**

One of the Bibles I have say that some witnesses include this line, so maybe it's not in every Matthew gospel. But this Bible goes right from the idea that the kingdom will be given to those producing fruits, and then the Pharisees understand that Jesus is referring to them.

SocietyVs said...

"But maybe they're killing everyone because they have nothing to produce, even literally, and don't want to be evicted." (OSS)

That is interesting, they were not producing fruit but still did not want to leave. That's an angle I haven't perused very much - but it is intriguing. So you're saying because there was no fruit - Jesus says the landowner will evict them to others who will (and will pay forward the proceeds). It's the line is vs.41 that kind of hints towards 'greed' (could be just me).

"the landlord would want validation that the workers have already produced fruit before renting out his land" (OSS)

I agree with this. Maybe the first group (being evicted) has no fruit to show...so they committ the actions. But what if this is an allusion to the prophets and Jesus - then what do we make of it?

"But they were already builders prior to receiving the stone." (OSS)

That's true...so you think this is related to the idea the new viner peeps would have the essentials to produce the 'fruit'...I agree.

This is a tough parable actually - since there is a few meanings running throughout it. But I think it relates to the Parable just prior to it and this line also "For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him" (vs. 32). I think Jesus is hinting around about this idea (this comparison of sinners and righteous people).

Pastor Bob said...

dagoods make a passing reference that I think is important. Certainly the Pharisees at least, and maybe all the hearers would have known the passage from Isaiah (I forget specifically where it is but know it is in the 1st 5 chapters) that is a parable about a vineyard. The parable seems to refer to Israel as the vineyard that does not produce the grapes intended but wild grapes instead. Those who knew Isaiah would have heard a connection to the Isaiah parable.

Further the reference to the cornerstone comes from Psalm 118.

Also, dagood it correct: if peasants heard this parable they would have heard it very differently that Americans. Nevertheless they also knew that if they did not give the absentee landlord his portion of the harvest, (which would have been very large) the landlord would kick them out or kill them and replace them.

The Pharisees might have heard the parable differently.

I'm suggesting that you can't get to the last part about those who produce fruit without going through the rest of the parable both in socio economic context and in the religious context of the time.

Finally one of the problems that we bring to parables is that we want to make them into analogies and name every part and person of the parable. Most parables aren't like that. Most have one point. So the question of who is what may not be appropriate.

Complicated, isn't it?

OneSmallStep said...

Pastor Bob,

The Bible, complicated? Surely you jest. ;)

I looked in one of my Bibles, and it says Isaiah 5: 1-7. I am curious about the contrast between grapes, and wild grapes. The basic "fruit" is the same: grapes, yet what is the difference between wild grapes and regular grapes? At first glance, I'm guessing it means that grapes simply let loose? No one really did what they were suppose to in correctly cultivate the fruit. It's just interesting, and tying back into Society's point about the intention of something.

Pastor Bob said...

onesmallstep

I hesitate to say this because it assumes that wild grapes here in the eastern US today are like wild grapes were back in the 8th century BC, but . . .

Here and now wild grape plants, while the leaves and vines look the same as cultivated grapes, don't actually have grapes on them. They have these curly things that stick out where the grapes would be. You can eat them but they are sour.

Having said that I imagine that grapes vine at some point in history in some place had to have fruit on them or nobody would have bothered with them.

Which is a long way of saying I don't know what wild grapes were in like back then. and the research might be difficult to do unless someone took the time to describe the physical difference between wild and non wild grapes.

Of course maybe there is some research on the subject. Anyone know?