Monday, September 29, 2014

Resurrection: The Return of the Rejected

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Matthew 21:33-46. When I say "rough," think lots and lots of places that could use some sandpaper and be smoothed out. If you happen to have that sandpaper, please feel free to share! 

33  Ἄλλην παραβολὴν ἀκούσατε. Ἄνθρωπος ἦν οἰκοδεσπότης ὅστις 
ἐφύτευσεν ἀμπελῶνα καὶ φραγμὸν αὐτῷ περιέθηκεν καὶ ὤρυξεν ἐν αὐτῷ 
ληνὸν καὶ ᾠκοδόμησεν πύργον, καὶ ἐξέδετο αὐτὸν γεωργοῖς, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν. 
Hear another parable. “A man was a householder who planted a vineyard and put a hedge around it and digged in it a wine-press and built a tower, and gave it out to tenant farmers, and went abroad.
ἀκούσατε: AAImpv 2p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear 
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐφύτευσεν: AAI 3s, φυτεύω, 1) to plant
περιέθηκεν: AAI 3s, περιτίθημι, 1) to place around, set about  2) to put on a garment  3) to put or bind a thing around another 
ὤρυξεν: AAI 3s, ὀρύσσω, 1) to dig
ᾠκοδόμησεν: AAI 3s, οἰκοδομέω, 1) to build a house, erect a building 
ἐξέδετο: AMI 3s,
ἀπεδήμησεν: AAI 3s, ἀποδημέω,1) to go away into foreign parts, go abroad
1. The KJV and Young’s Literal Translation render γεωργοῖς as “husbandmen.” I typically think of ‘husbandry’ as animal-related and this is a vineyard and winery. The word γεωργοῖς (Georgois) has γεω (earth) in it, so I think ‘tenant farmers’ is a fair modern translation.
2. This story echoes Isaiah 5:2, the LXX of which reads: καὶ φραγμὸν περιέθηκα καὶ ἐχαράκωσα καὶ ἐφύτευσαἄμπελον σωρηχ καὶ ᾠκοδόμησα πύργον ἐν μέσῳ αὐτοῦ καὶ προλήνιον ὤρυξα ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ ἔμεινα τοῦ ποιῆσαισ τα φυλήν ἐποίησεν δὲ ἀκάνθας, He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3. While this is an echo, it is a revision of Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard. In Isaiah’s story, the vineyard goes bad, rending wild grapes and not cultivated grapes. In Jesus’ story, the focus shifts to the keepers of the vineyard – those who are responsible for the cultivation and, in this case, the chief priests and Pharisees (v.45). As Paul Ricoeur says, the nature of intertextuality is for one text to receive meaning from a prior text and to give it new meaning.

34ὅτε δὲ ἤγγισεν  καιρὸς τῶν καρπῶν, ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ πρὸς 
τοὺς γεωργοὺς λαβεῖν τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτοῦ. 
Yet when the time came of the fruits, he sent his servants to the tenant farmers to receive his fruits.
ἤγγισεν: AAI 3s, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another  2) to draw or come near to, to approach
ἀπέστειλεν: AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed 
λαβεῖν: AAInf, λαμβάνω, 1) to take, to receive
1. So far, this is a common practice. It may be in a context of resentment, since the tenant farmers would be those who have become landless along the way and the householder would be one who has aggregated land along the way. If this is a story of the oppressed lashing out against the oppressor, then one might have some measure of sympathy with the tenant farmers. But, while one might argue that the motive behind the tenant farmers’ actions is to rectify injustice, their  means of doing so makes them emphatically unsympathetic in the story. It seems to me tat whatever historical context we might posit for the story has to yield to the flow of the story itself. In the story itself, the tenant farmers’ actions seem like greed rather than a just cause.   

35καὶ λαβόντες οἱ γεωργοὶ τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὃν μὲν ἔδειραν, ὃν δὲ 
ἀπέκτειναν, ὃν δὲ ἐλιθοβόλησαν. 
And the tenant farmers took his servants one of whom they beat, and one of whom they killed, and one of whom they stoned.  
λαβόντες: AAPart npm, λαμβάνω, 1) to take, to receive
ἔδειραν: AAI 3p, δέρω, 1) to flay, skin  2) to beat, thrash, smite
ἀπέκτειναν: AAI 3p, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever 
ἐλιθοβόλησαν: AAI 3p, λιθοβολέω, 1) to kill by stoning, to stone  2) to pelt one with stones
1. With regard to the one whom they “stoned”: I am keeping an eye on vv.42 and 44 and wondering if the stones of this stoning and the stone that was rejected then returned and the stone that crushes are related somehow.
2. The verb λαμβάνω can mean “to take” or “to receive,” depending on how it is being used. It seems ironic that the servant was sent to “take/receive” the householder’s fruit and the tenant farmers “take/receive” the servants.

36 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους πλείονας τῶν πρώτων, καὶ ἐποίησαν 
αὐτοῖς ὡσαύτως. 
He sent other servants more than the first ones, and they did to them the same.
ἀπέστειλεν: AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed 
ἐποίησαν: AAI 3p, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
1. One way to read this parable – so far – might be to see it as a description of Israel’s history under imperial regimes, whether Egypt or Babylon or Greece or Rome. One can name prophets, priests, and kings in Israel who were cruelly dealt with by those regimes and their puppets. There were, in some theological interpretations of Israel’s history, arguments that the empires over Israel were instituted by God, because of Israel’s own unfaithfulness. But, in the more redemptive moments, there were also expressions of God’s anger lashing out against those empires. I suggest that the chief priests and Pharisees are hearing the parable this way – which explains their response to the parable in v.41.

37 ὕστερον δὲ ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ λέγων, Ἐντραπήσονται τὸν υἱόν μου. 
Yet finally he sent to them his son saying, “They will revere my son.”
ἀπέστειλεν: AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ἐντραπήσονται: FPI 3p, ἐντρέπω, 1) to shame one  2) to be ashamed  3) to reverence a person  4) to turn about 
1. It appears odd that the possible definitions of ἐντρέπω are either “to shame” or “to reverence,” but the verb itself seems to refer to the ‘turn inward’ that leads one to either reverence or shame. John Calvin’s observation may be helpful here, when he said that our awe before the holiness of God leads us to shame of our own sinfulness. ἐντρέπω might be the pivot between the two.

38 οἱ δὲ γεωργοὶ ἰδόντες τὸν υἱὸν εἶπον ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ κληρονόμος: 
δεῦτε ἀποκτείνωμεν αὐτὸν καὶ σχῶμεν τὴν κληρονομίαν αὐτοῦ. 
Yet the tenant farmers, seeing the son, said to themselves, “This is the heir; Come, let us kill him and let us keep his inheritance.
ἀποκτείνωμεν: AASubj 1p, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever  1a) to destroy, to allow to perish  2) metaph. to extinguish, abolish  2a) to inflict mortal death  2b) to deprive of spiritual life and procure eternal misery in hell
σχῶμεν: AASubj 1p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have  (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating  emotions, etc.), to hold fast keep, to have or comprise or  involve, to regard or consider or hold as
ἰδόντες: AAPart npm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes 
εἶπον: AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἀποκτείνωμεν:  AAS 1p, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever
σχῶμεν: AAS 1p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
1. Has there ever been a worse use of the hortatory subjunctive than, “Come, let us kill him”?
2. To this point, the motive for beating, killing and stoning the servants is not given. I am not sure how to read this motive for killing the son. Keeping his “inheritance” may refer to keeping the fruits of their labors. If it refers to somehow obtaining ownership of the land itself, then there are some inheritance laws at work that I do not understand. (This is also an area where I am suspicious of commentators whose “historical” claims seem like retrofitted rationales to answer unanswerable questions.)
3. If one is hearing this parable as a judgment against imperial regimes who have overstepped their God-given purpose, then this is an act of hubris whereby those regimes are no longer rendering God’s judgment but are trying to overcome God’s own purposes.

39 καὶ λαβόντες αὐτὸν ἐξέβαλον ἔξω τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος καὶ ἀπέκτειναν. 
And having taken him they threw him out of the garden and killed.
λαβόντες: AAPart npm, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 
ἐξέβαλον: AAI 3p, ἐκβάλλω, 1) to cast out, drive out, to send out
ἀπέκτειναν: AAI 3p, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever
1. Here is that “take/receive” verb (λαμβάνω) again.

40 ὅταν οὖν ἔλθῃ  κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος, τί ποιήσει τοῖς γεωργοῖς ἐκείνοις; 
Therefore when the lord of the vineyard came, what did he do to those tenant farmers?”
ἔλθῃ: AAS 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ποιήσει: FAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make 
1. Now, the “householder” (οἰκοδεσπότης: literally “house despot”) is become the “the lord of the vineyard” ( κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος). That reference seems to solidify the interpretation of this figure as a God-figure.
2. Also adding to the interpretation of this figure as a God-figure is the invulnerability that surrounds him. He does not “return” with an army, but he also does not return with any concern about being killed, stoned, beaten, or sent away empty. Those responses are not given as possibilities for the story. The only question is how the Lord of the vineyard will deal with the tenant farmers.

41 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Κακοὺς κακῶς ἀπολέσει αὐτούς, καὶ τὸν ἀμπελῶνα ἐκδώσεται ἄλλοις γεωργοῖς, οἵτινες ἀποδώσουσιν αὐτῷ τοὺς καρποὺς ἐν τοῖς 
καιροῖς αὐτῶν. 
They say to him, “Evil ones he will destroy them evilly, and will give the vineyard to other tenant farmers, who will give to him the fruit their seasons.”
λέγουσιν: PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀπολέσει: FAI 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy
ἐκδώσεται: FMI 3s,
ἀποδώσουσιν: FAI 3p, ἀποδίδωμι, 1) to deliver, to give away for one's own profit what is one's  own, to sell
1. I am seeing κακός translated as ‘miserable,’ ‘wretched,’ or ‘evil’ – any of which is fine, but I think it is important to honor Matthew’s repetition and keep the term consistent, first as an adjective Κακοὺς  then as an adverb κακῶς.
2. I think we are seeing Matthew’s description of the expectations of 1st century Jewish leadership here: God will return and punish the Roman Empire in the same way that they have violently overcome their subjects, then give the land to better stewards, by which they mean themselves. Both this theological interpretation and expectation seem fairly common in history.

42 λέγει αὐτοῖς  Ἰησοῦς, Οὐδέποτε ἀνέγνωτε ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς, Λίθον ὃν 
ἀπεδοκίμασαν οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλὴν γωνίας: 
παρὰ κυρίου ἐγένετο αὕτη, καὶ ἔστιν θαυμαστὴ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν;
Jesus says to them, “Have you never discerned in the scriptures, ‘The stone which those who are builders rejected has become into a head of a corner; by a lord it has become this, and is wonderful in our eyes’?  
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀνέγνωτε: AAI 2p, ἀναγινώσκω, 1) to distinguish between, to recognize, to know accurately,  to acknowledge  2) to read 
ἀπεδοκίμασαν: AAI 3p, ἀποδοκιμάζω  1. to disapprove, to reject on scrutiny or trial.
οἰκοδομοῦντες: PAPart npm, οἰκοδομέω  1. to build a house; to build;
ἐγενήθη: API 3s, γίνομαι  1) to begin to be
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι  1) to begin to be
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. The pronoun “it” in the last sentence is feminine, which means the antecedent is the phrase κεφαλὴν γωνίας, a head of a corner.
2. This is a direct quote from the LXX 117:22-23: λίθον ὃν ἀπεδοκίμασαν οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλὴν γωνίας παρὰ κυρίου ἐγένετο αὕτη καὶ ἔστιν θαυμαστὴ ἐνὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, which is rendered in English Bibles as Psalm 118:22-23 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 
3. This well-known psalm changes everything! The rejection of the son, even the death of the son, is not the final violation that requires death-as-punishment in return. The option that those who answer Jesus’ question in v.41 leave out is the option that they cite often in their psalter – God can work differently than the Empire. This verse is Matthew’s argument that the early church is indeed faithful to the Hebrew Bible, by believing in God’s ability to restore the rejected stone.

43 διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἀρθήσεται ἀφ' ὑμῶν  βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ δοθήσεται ἔθνει ποιοῦντι τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτῆς. 
Because of this I say to you that the reign of God will be lifted from you and given to a nation who is producing its fruit.
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀρθήσεται : FPI 3s, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up 
δοθήσεται: FPI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
ποιοῦντι: PAPart dsn, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.
1. The antecedent for “its” fruit is “ βασιλεία.” There is a nation bringing forth the fruit of the reign of God and it is not the Jewish leaders to whom Jesus is speaking. That is a shocking statement.

44 [Καὶ  πεσὼν ἐπὶ τὸν λίθον τοῦτον συνθλασθήσεται: ἐφ' ὃν δ' ἂν πέσῃ 
λικμήσει αὐτόν.] 
[And the one who has fallen on this stone will be shattered; on whom it falls will crush him.]
πεσὼν: AAPart nsm, πίπτω, 1) to descend from a higher place to a lower  1a) to fall (either from or upon)  1a1) to be thrust down  1b) metaph. to fall under judgment, came under condemnation
συνθλασθήσεται: FPI 3s,
πέσῃ: AASubj 3s, πίπτω, 1) to descend from a higher place to a lower  1a) to fall (either from or upon)
λικμήσει: FAI 3s, λικμάω, 1) to winnow, cleanse away the chaff from the grain by winnowing  2) to scatter  3) to crush to pieces, grind to powder 
1. This is a curious statement in a curious place that is not found in all of the early manuscripts and which seems to me to be an obvious gloss to synchronize Matthew’s account with Luke’s account. It doesn’t seem to fit within the metaphor of the cornerstone at all.

45 Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι τὰς παραβολὰς αὐτοῦ 
ἔγνωσαν ὅτι περὶ αὐτῶν λέγει: 
And the chief priests and the Pharisees having listened to his parable knew that he is speaking about them.
ἀκούσαντες: AAPart npm, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear
ἔγνωσαν: AAI 3p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel  1a) to become known
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak

46 καὶ ζητοῦντες αὐτὸν κρατῆσαι ἐφοβήθησαν τοὺς ὄχλους, ἐπεὶ εἰς 
προφήτην αὐτὸν εἶχον.
And seeking to arrest him they were fearful of the crowd, since they were regarding him as a prophet.
ζητοῦντες: PAPart npm, ζητέω, 1) to seek in order to find  1a) to seek a thing 
κρατῆσαι: AAInf, κρατέω, 1) to have power, be powerful  1a) to be chief, be master of, to rule  … 2c) to take hold of, take, seize  
ἐφοβήθησαν: API 3p,
εἶχον: IAI 3p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold 


  1. In Jesus' telling, the chief priests and the elders/Pharisees would have seen that God/the landowner was on their side, casting out anyone who threatened their self righteousness or authority. In Matthew's retelling of the story... well, this is where I get lost. The early church would have seen the tenant farmers/wretches as the Roman Empire. God will surely kick them out. But if the flow follows Jesus' original telling, the empire would have become the cornerstone? (Oh, wait! It did, a few centuries later!)

    I'm lost.

    1. The tenants did not become the cornerstone; the son did. So the empire would not become the cornerstone; the Son would.

  2. Dwight: I agree with the Anonymous commenter above. Still, I see your point and find the hard part of this parable to be how it is that Jesus is speaking it "against them", i.e. the chief priests, etc. I also think it is complicated because, as Jesus speaks, he has not been killed. So, to posit him as the son who is put to death in the parable has to be a post-crucifixion/resurrection claim by the early church, retrofitted into a parable in a pre-crucifixion/resurrection moment.

    I wonder what might have happened if the leaders had said "God will restore the son as Psalm 117/118 says." If the had given this answer and, indeed, if they had exercised their offices with the expectations that God would do so, I think Jesus would have said, "Yes!" and they would have been on the same side. But, by answering with violence, they have aligned themselves with the manner of Rome and have shown their kinship with the tenants, not the way of God.

    Something like that, perhaps?


If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive