In Luke chapter 20, Jesus recounts an interesting parable. In it a man plants a vineyard and rents it out to husbandmen before going on a long journey. At the time of harvest he sends servants to collect from them. Instead of giving the landlord what is rightfully his, they beat the servant and send him back. Each servant who comes to collect is beaten. Finally, the man sends his son, thinking that they will treat the son with respect. They do just the opposite and kill the son of the man.
The application for the original hearers of the parable is clear. The man is God, the husbandmen are the Jews, the servants are the prophets and the son is Christ. Instead of giving God His due, they attempt to steal the vineyard from him and appropriate it for themselves. But there is a modern application as well that I think applies to the subject of religious liberty. I have always found it interesting that Christ’s most pointed critiques fell not on those we would describe as bereft of morality, but instead to the people and leaders of the church. I think that today, as then, there are people who claim to be in league with God but are robbing Him of His church and leading people astray. And just as with the husbandmen of the parable, they are willing to metaphorically kill Christ to do it.
But how do you kill Christ? An examination of how it actually happened in the Bible reveals an interesting answer. Matthew 27: 1,2 describes the process. Christ is first condemned to death by a religious tribunal. He is then sent to the state to have this religious determination ratified and executed. This is the essence of any union of church and state. The church has the moral authority but not the tangible power to condemn Christ to death. So they turn to the state to legitimize their moral proclamation. We see the same thing happening today. Whether it is moral proclamations on abortion or gay marriage, or the desire to receive government funding for their Christian ministries, or those who would seek to use government as a shield for their discrimination and bigotry, there are those among the Christians in this country who are seeking secular authority for their religious proclamations – as the Pharisees did to Christ.
How can we be different? How can we avoid the actions (and the fate) of the husbandmen in this parable? How can we keep ourselves from robbing God of His movement, His church? I wish I could give you a step-by-step process to shield ourselves from the temptation that power brings. I wish I had a simple, more definitive answer to the question of how we hold our power and influence in trust and not compulsion. Instead all I can give is the simple but not easy answer we have had all along. We need to have a more genuine faith. I believe in the power of God to change lives, without the pressure of government. I believe in the power of God to provide for the ministries of His people, without them having to tie themselves to government. I believe that God does not want us to use our faith to make others feel less worthy of the life God gave them. At the end of the day I want everyone to experience and know the love of God in all its fullness. Because that is my desire, I believe in a God that can do what seems to be impossible to the human mind and heart. I believe that if we fully submit to the will of God and if we are willing to trust Him in all things, then we can spark a change in people that can affect the entire world. That is all that faith is and all that it has ever been – the strength to believe.
 I have always found it fascinating that it was at this point that the pharisees then begin to live out their roles from the parable, beginning with their plans to arrest Christ.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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