I don’t like bullies. Do you like bullies? I think all of us have witnessed bullies or perhaps been bullies at some point in our lives. People can bully others physically, verbally or in any other way that is mean or condescending. Another kind of bully is a religious bully. Jesus confronted religious bullies just as we confront religious bullies today that consider that they are more spiritual than others. They take on the privilege of determining who is right and wrong in how they serve God, and who is in or out based on their own righteousness.
In our gospel reading today Jesus tells about a landowner that plants a vineyard, puts a fence around it, digs a wine press and builds a watchtower on the land. Then he leased the land to tenants and went away to another country. When harvest time comes he sends his servants to go and collect his produce, but the tenant’s seized his servants and beat one, killed another and stoned another. He sent more servants but they treated them the same way. Finally he sends his son thinking surely they will respect my son, but instead they see it as an opportunity to kill the son and take over the inheritance. He is talking about bullies here, and the Pharisees and chief priests understand that he is referring to them as the bullies, the worst kind of bullies, arrogantly thinking they are more religious than almost everyone.
The Pharisees and other leading religious leaders used the measure of their own righteousness to judge others. Exclusivity is a minister of pride and rebellion against God. It’s a way of redefining God in order to maintain religious power and authority over others. Dominant exclusiveness allows the religious caretakers to enforce religious views in any way possible. After all they control what is right and what is wrong, and the methods to enforce dogma.
We talked last week about how Jesus came to heal the broken hearted. He came to heal the blind, to enable us all to see as God sees. He came to heal those that recognize their needs for help. He obviously cannot help those who do not think they need healing. He obviously cannot help those that do not think they are spiritually blind. “A broken and a contrite heart oh God you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Jesus will come to those who want their eyes to be open, those who are penitent and open-hearted for spiritual change. But, Jesus does not come to those who are filled with deceitfulness, people who are not spiritually flexible.
There have always been and there are today, religious bullies. You hear them on radio and TV telling us who is in and who is out, and they even use the Bible as a religious weapon and thank it is okay to hit people over the head with it, but the kind of hitting they are doing is even more harmful than physical hitting. According to their own measure they determine who is righteous and who is unrighteous. I find this appalling, using religious guile and manipulation to promote oneself from a bully platform, reinventing and redefining Jesus, and making God into their own image.
In Iraq and Syria, religious bullies quantify who is in and who is out, and using their own righteousness as a measure. They are religious bullies, murderers who think it is their right to kill people physically and also to determine their afterlife. We all know that they have no control over the afterlife, but they think they do.
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’? The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” I want to fall on this stone rather than have this stone fall on me. I want to recognize my brokenness before the Lord. I want to recognize my need for help. I want to recognize the emptiness in my life that needs to be filled. I want to recognize my inefficiencies’, my sins and wrongdoings. I want to ask forgiveness from God and from others.
Sometimes we know when we are sinning, and sometimes we don’t know, but we know that we make mistakes. I pray that our hearts will be open before God, both to receive and to give, and not to use our own life as a measuring stick, but to be measure by Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.
As Paul; says, “I count everything I have, all my accomplishments and achievements. I give them all up, and lay them aside. I press on toward the heavenly call in Christ Jesus, to be transformed and to be fixated with that calling “to know God and to be known by God”
“This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus”.
Year A 17th Sunday after Pentecost
October 5, 2014
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen