Friday, June 10, 2016

Sons and servants

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Mt 21:33-41).

Some "scholars" think the Synoptic Gospels have a lower Christology than John's Gospel. Here's a passage with striking implications for Christology.

What the characters in the parable stand for is straightforward: the landlord represents God the Father, the son represents Jesus, the servants represent Jewish prophets (including John the Baptist), and the tenant farmers represent the Jewish establishment.

The parable turns on a categorical contrast between a servant (or slave) and a son. Slave-masters didn't necessarily care about the personal wellbeing of their slaves. They were like livestock. If a slave was accidentally killed, that was a financial loss. A business write off.

When the tenants disrespect his servants, they disrespect the master who sent them. That's an affront, not because he especially cares about his servants, but because it shows contempt for him. Yet that's a forgivable offense. He shows the tenants clemency. That's because he is still hoping to recoup his investment. 

But when they murder his son, they cross a line of no return. That's personal. They can't get back from that. By that action, they make an implacable, mortal enemy. Seal their doom. Sign their own death warrant.

That's because a father/son relationship is in a completely different league than a master/slave relationship. That's a uniquely intimate bond. Indeed, attacking a man through his son is more hurtful than attacking the man directly. 

If, however, Jesus is merely human, then that erases the categorical distinction between servant and son. Jesus is just another prophet. Another human being. 

But the parable requires the son to operate at a categorically higher level. A blood relation. And not just any relative, but a relative who is most like the landlord himself. To whom the landlord is most attached. An extension of himself. 


  1. "If, however, Jesus is merely human, then that erases the categorical distinction between servant and son. Jesus is just another prophet. (Just) Another human being."

    Three non sequiturs in a row. Impressive!

    1. I didn't use a one-sentence argument. The statement you quote is one component in a larger argument.

      You respond by *asserting* non sequiturs. Impressive!

    2. Sorry, Steve, no interesting argument in the post. "a father/son relationship is in a completely different league" A truism - I agree. But the three conclusions I flagged simply don't follow. We've not been given any reason to think that such a relationship implies sameness of essence/nature.

      It's remarkable how eager people pushing the "mere man" objection are to ignore the importance of messiahship - as if being the predestined, virgin-born, savior of the world, now raised and exalted to God's right hand, amounted to nothing. Ho-hum - mere man! It's all nothing, unless he "has a divine nature" too. Oy. Back to the sources. All four gospel authors seemed to think that Jesus's messiahship was a huge deal. Indeed, it is. That's the centerpiece claim of the apostolic preaching in Acts.

    3. "We've not been given any reason to think that such a relationship implies sameness of essence/nature."

      The parable, like parables generally, operates on two levels. First the world of the story. In the story, the landlord and his son are related to each other in a way that his servants are not. And the parable pivots on that categorical contrast.

      Then there's what the parable corresponds to in real life. For the comparison to hold, you can't have God at one ontological level and Jesus at a fundamentally different, lower level. The relationship must be analogous to the parable.

      In the world of the parable, the landlord and his son are both human. And they share the deepest kind of human affinity.

      Of course, the landlord represents God the Father. Therefore, you can't promote the landlord to a divine figure, while keeping the son merely human, when you match the parabolic characters to their real-life counterparts. Rather, you need to be consistent in your treatment of both. Promote both or demote both. The original parity must be maintained. To say the landlord stands for a divine figure while his son stands for a merely human figure destroys the symmetry of the original.

      You've filtered Christ's messiahship through your unitarian sieve to screen out the divinity. Yet Christians are hardly ignoring the importance of Jesus' messiahship. But you can't strip his messiahship of divinity and pretend it retains the same importance.