Working in God’s vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

Why did all workers get the same wage?

Many of Jesus’ stories are about our relationship with God. As humans, we have such a privileged vocation — working with and for our heavenly sovereign in his earthly realm.

That’s the background for this parable:
Matthew 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. (NIV)

Earth is a kingdom of heaven, for “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Exodus 9:29; Psalm 24:1). Since the nations were no longer serving their true sovereign, God planted Israel as his vineyard, but they had not produced the harvest God intended either (Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8-16).

In Jesus’ story, the property owner never gave up on his original goal. The emphasis falls on his effort seeking people who would work for him: early morning (20:1), mid-morning (20:3), midday (20:5), mid-afternoon (20:5), and late in the day (20:6). That’s keen insight into what it’s been like for God to have earth as his kingdom.

Continue reading “Working in God’s vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)”

Son of man enthroned (Matthew 19:27-30)

What was Jesus seeing when he envisaged thrones for himself and his disciples?

We recognize the kingdom of God by recognizing Jesus as king. That may not be obvious, because Jesus constantly proclaimed God’s kingship without overtly claiming to be king. Only when heaven had revealed his kingship did Jesus begin to reveal his plan to build the community around his kingship (16:16-19).

In fact, he doesn’t mention his throne until his disciples start to question whether Jesus can deliver what he promised. He floored them by declaring that the powerful would kill him (16:20-22; 17:22-23). He devastated them by describing the wealthy as a humanly impossible problem for his kingdom agenda (19:23-26). They start to wonder if pinning their hopes on Jesus to lead them into the regenerated world was worth it.

Continue reading “Son of man enthroned (Matthew 19:27-30)”

Picturing new heavens/earth

How to you picture the new heavens and new earth? Here’s how Aussie artists responded to the challenge.

What do you imagine when you hear of God restoring his creation, as a new heavens and a new earth?

Mandorla Art Awards challenged Australian artists to realize that image. Here are some of the results, displayed at Turner Galleries (Perth) in June 2018. Continue reading “Picturing new heavens/earth”

Humanity untwisted: the joy of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)

What would the world look like if God untwisted everything that’s wrong with the way we are running the world, and restored it as he intended? Jesus describes the joy.

Open Matthew 5:3-12.

The Beatitudes are revolutionary. They’re cameos of what happens when God turns the world back up the right way, overturning evil, restoring his reign. Release from oppression brings exuberant joy. Those who’ve missed out receive the kingdom. Those who’ve grieved receive comfort. The powerless receive the earth. Those who’ve yearned for justice are finally satisfied.

The heart of this joy is the untwisting of our humanity. All the injustice and power struggles and grief and poverty stem from abusing the power God gave us to rule his creation. We were designed to image his character by managing his world. Instead people have grasped his power and wielded it violently, destructively, oppressively. But all this evil is untwisted as God, in Jesus, brings us back under his reign.

So Jesus proclaims great joy on those who are genuinely human. Blessed are those who stop revolting, and reflect the image of our heavenly sovereign instead.

He gives us four cameos of what that looks like. It’s treating each other with mercy, so people see God’s mercy (5:7). It’s acting out of a pure heart, so people can see God rather than our image (5:8). It’s working for peace, so people see the family resemblance (5:9).

But there’s a problem with Jesus’ approach. Continue reading “Humanity untwisted: the joy of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)”

The other side of blessed (Matthew 5:3-6)

Jesus proclaimed the poor, the mourning, and the powerless to be winners. So who are the losers?

Open Matthew 5:3-6 and Luke 6:20-26.

When blessing comes to one group, another group misses out. Jewish wisdom-teaching always worked like this: announcing blessings for those who obeyed Torah also implied woes for those who disobeyed.

So when Jesus said, “Blessings on the poor …” did he also mean “and woe to the rich?” When he said, “Blessings on the grieving …” did he also mean “and woe to those who are content?” Continue reading “The other side of blessed (Matthew 5:3-6)”