They asked the son of God, “Who do you think you are?” That’s my rendering at least. The NIV’s “By what authority are you doing these things?” seems to be a kind, passive-aggressive way of asking the same thing, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus was an affront to the Chief Priests’ very way of living. In the last day and a half, Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem (the City of Kings) as though he were a newly coronated king, turned over the money tables in the temple (a major source of their income), and compared them to a fig tree he cursed and killed. Jesus didn’t want to change their religion. He wanted to destroy their comfortable, self-righteous place in society. So, even if the Chief Priests posed the question politely, they wanted to know, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus wants them to ask a better question.
Jesus’ parable of the tenants is simple allegory. God, the man who planted the vineyard, put tenants, the Jewish leaders, in charge of the vineyard. Soon, the tenants, who should have expected to owe the land owner something, beat two of the owner’s servants and kill a third when they come to collect. At this point the parable is reflective, that is, looking back on the way the Jewish leaders have treated God’s prophets. However, the parable turns prophetic when the land owner sends his son, clearly Jesus, and the tenants kill him so they could steal the son’s inheritance. In a matter of days the Jewish leaders will kill Jesus. But, lost in the tragedy of Jesus’ death, is the evil motive of the tenants. They wanted Jesus’ heavenly inheritance.
We have to remember the first Easter was a struggle of power over God’s inheritance. God’s people killed God to steal what was his. All God wanted was his people to give him what he was owed, the place of ultimate power and authority in their lives and society. When God sent his son to collect their devotion, they killed him because they couldn’t stand the thought of losing power: even to their God. So they ask Jesus, “Who do you think you are?”
Jesus’ parable begs them, and us today, to ask a different question. Can we, who hold places of power in our society, who live quite comfortable lives, who have contributed to the imbalance of wealth in the world, who have contributed to suffering, give Jesus what is his? Are we willing to become poor? Are we people who ask, “because Jesus is God, who are we?” Or will we be religious leaders who, when Jesus calls us to love people more than money, ask Jesus, “Who do you think you are?”
May we be a family who joins King David in singing Psalm 55 before The LORD.
Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you
he will never let the righteous fall.
But you, O God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of corruption
bloodthirsty and deceitful men
will not live out half their days.
But as for me, I trust in you.