Week of May 8

 Who Owns the Pew?

Read 2 Samuel 8-9; 1 Chronicles 18-19; Matthew 21
“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and
given to a people producing its fruits.”
 Matthew 21:43, ESV


It has been said, “What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” There came a point in time when many in ancient Israel forgot that they were chosen by God not because of some special quality, like their numerical size, but simply by His sovereign choice (Deuteronomy 7:6-7). With such a great blessing came great responsibility. Yet, Israel acted like an ungrateful child and abused its relationship with the Heavenly Father.

The word entitlement comes to mind when I read our focal passage today. Entitlement means “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” Jesus’ words raised the blood pressure of the Jewish leaders because His way threatened their very existence (John 11:48). His words also offer us an important challenge to our current American Christian comfort.

Understanding the Bible Context

Keep your focus on the Temple
A Bible scholar reminds us that Jesus and His followers arrive in Jerusalem, which is “both his destination and destiny” (Blomberg, NAC). The key to interpretation is to recognize that all the events in chapters 21-22 focus on the temple in Jerusalem. First, Jesus’ activity was grounded in and a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets. Messiah would enter the Holy City at the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 4:14), and He would go to the Temple to purify it (Malachi 3-4). The events that will unfold in Jerusalem need to be considered in light of this truth. Messiah was fulfilling His mission!
We need to learn from Israel’s failure
Here we find ourselves again in a vineyard, and I am quite tempted to produce a television mini-series with the title of this episode being, “Hard Pressed in the Winepress!” Jesus is in full rebuke of those within Israel who are rejecting Him. He takes it one step further in this parable by stating that the tenants will be replaced by another “people” (21:43). Even though this is not an explicit reference to the Gentiles, it does allude to the community of Christ’s followers.

Entitlement thinking includes several features. First, the vineyard tenants reason selfishly. The vineyard belongs rightfully to the owner (21:38-39). They decide, however, that their master is long gone and that they will kill the heir. Possession of the vineyard, in their minds, could be “more than nine-tenths of the law” (NAC). The parallels with the coming crucifixion are obvious.

Secondly, they live blindly (21:40-41). Jesus asks them what would become of such evil tenants and the religious leaders state the facts that swift, final, and rightful judgment will fall upon them. Jesus chides them for their blindness and cites Psalm 118:22-23. By this time, the cornerstone was seen to be an individual—Abraham, David, or the Messiah—and Jesus was making a veiled reference to Himself. The cornerstone was standing in front of their very eyes and they “would not” see Him as such.

Lastly, their attitudes exposed their prideful hearts. They knowingly traded God’s eternal riches for temporal rewards and showed their refusal to submit to His authority (21:45; cf. vv. 23-26).

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

I recall a time when a wonderful gentleman left a church that I served because he had been rudely treated for sitting in someone’s “seat” in the worship center. He was shocked at first, thinking it was some sort of joke, but the person assured him that it was no joke. He had been a member there since the beginning and that was his spot! There were plenty of other seats nearby, but entitlement had blinded the selfish church member to the responsibilities within a community based upon grace. Sadly, this very thing has happened in churches that I have visited in recent years. Pews are one thing, but people are quite another thing.

Here is a key spiritual message. This passage reminds the church that while God is patient, His gospel purposes for lost humanity will not be thwarted. Those who reject His authority will be rejected and, ultimately, destroyed. He will raise up new leaders who will produce the desired fruit. An attitude of entitlement hinders true worship and makes a mockery of Christ’s sacrificial love. Oscar Wilde once said that “love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling.” Sage advice. Besides, the world can get a better view of Christ when we serve them from our knees (humbly).

Reflecting upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Take a moment to determine whether you have built entitlements into your Christian life. Perhaps you feel entitled to some special privilege in the Body of Christ based upon your position or your membership. Relinquish those to the Heavenly Father.

2. What may be some ways that the Church has begun to reflect the attitudes of the ungrateful tenants in today’s parable? Write down steps that you would take to correct the attitude of entitlement.

3. For Families: In our culture, where all children are given trophies, and most voices tell our children, as do we, that they are wonderful and strong and smart and self-reliant, it takes a thoughtful effort to keep our children from feeling entitled to the best of everything. Some parents treat their children like young rajas. These young rajas often grow up to expect, and then to demand, that others treat them the same way. They are an exception to every rule. They make their own rules.

One of the most valuable lessons we can model for our children is one of humility that leads to a consideration of others. As we live gratefully to God, we will act in ways that help other people to know Christ fully and remove all barriers between ourselves and a clear gospel witness. Our children need to learn realistically how it feels to be just “one of the group” instead of always being “the exceptional child.” They will grow healthy self-images as they follow Jesus closely. And Jesus reminds us that gratitude for God’s grace (unmerited favor) is an essential mark of Christian character.
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock