Matthew 21:23-46 – Jesus Faces the Religious Leaders

Read Matthew 21:23-46

Jesus faces the religious leaders in the temple

As we walk through Holy Week together with Jesus, today we meet up with him in the Temple. Our last reading shared about the triumphant entry into Jerusalem followed by his outburst in the temple overturning money changers. It’s a rare moment when we see Jesus display his humanity with such anger. The leading priests and leaders are curious and call Jesus out on such behavior.

Jesus handles the confrontation well. He could have been annoyed that his teaching was interrupted. After all, he knew that his days were few. Yet, in the few verses we read today, we see how Jesus stays poised and very effective in his communication. Jesus used this opportunity as a teachable moment and started telling stories.

Storytelling is a great way to make a point, to sell a product, or build on a relationship. While Jesus wasn’t “selling” anything, he was trying to help people think in a way that might have been different than they were used to. He had to build trust, and stories are great for that.

When I take this reading together with the surrounding verses, I appreciate Jesus even more. He knew the end was coming for his ministry on earth, and yet he had so much more to share. On the other hand, I have to wonder what the religious teachers were thinking. Especially when Jesus threw in the reference about the “rejected” becoming the “cornerstone” from Psalm 118:22.

Did anybody have an “a-ha” moment? The leaders did see themselves in the story. “When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers.” They didn’t seem to want to admit it. In fact, they were furious but fearful to do anything about it because of Jesus’ popularity as a prophet.

That realization must have hit them like a ton of bricks. They were going to have to do something and up their game so that they could follow through with their plan to kill Jesus. Wanting to do something and having a strategy in place to get it done are two very different things.

Jesus work on earth was coming to an end. These words of teaching will be Jesus’ last public appearance. You might say these words comprise Jesus’ closing argument or declaration of policies or intentions. You’ll note that we are only reading a few verses from Jesus’ final speech to the people.

Did any of Jesus’ words challenge you today? For me, it was the story about the two sons. There are a lot of phony people out there who say one thing and do another. We should never believe we can “fool” God or get away with something. He knows our heart.

praying hands looking up

Let’s pray. Lord, forgive me when I get busy and find myself only going through the motions. I want my heart to be filled with gratitude and adoration for all that you have done for me. I can’t even imagine what those final days would have been like. May I take time to focus on your journey to the cross and be ready to share in your hour of despair. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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