First—and this is very important—this parable is not about the Kingdom being taken away from the Jewish people and given to Christians. The last two sentences state: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.”
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The Jewish crowds would not have supported Jesus if this parable taught that they were being replaced. This parable is about “the kingdom.” It’s about the elite in society losing positions of power and that power being given to the masses. The crowds of people found hope and resonance in these the teachings of reversal: the elite and powerful would have the reins of society taken away from them and given to the marginalized and excluded. And if this parable did teach that power and resources would be taken away from the powerful, propertied and privileged, and given to the masses, then it makes sense that when those in power heard this, they sought to kill Jesus. It also makes sense that they had to be ever so careful because they knew the people heard something in this parable in the long line of justice prophets that made them love Jesus all the more.
What might this parable be saying to us today? What would a reversal look like in our society? What would it look like for the control in our society to taken from wealthy corporation owners who have bought democracy and politicians, leaving the masses with little say in how society functions and whom it benefits? What would it look like for each person to have a voice? Can you imagine it?
Originally, Thomas Paine called for this kind of democracy, but his calls were ultimately rejected by the aristocratic founding fathers, who called Paine’s ideas “radical democracy.” He called for the end of slavery and a vote for women, but in their revolutionary decision to declare independence from Britain, the founding fathers created a democracy that only gave a vote to propertied, White men. We still have yet to witness America living up to its high ideals. When we consider who is left out today, economically, socially, politically, what would it look like for control in our society to be taken from the powerful, the elite, and given, genuinely, to the masses.
What could a safe, just, compassionate society look like? How would it differ from our present system? Take some time this week to imagine how a just society would be shaped and whom it would take care of? Before we can work for it, we have to first imagine it. Then we can name it. And then, we can roll up our sleeves and work toward it.
Herb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.