Sunday, October 2, 2011

hoist by your own petard!

May my words be in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Our parable today put me in mind of the idea of being hoist by your own petard … that's where something one intends for the harm of another ends up harming them. The phrase comes from siege warfare. A petard was a small bomb used to blow up a city gate & if the engineer planting it was blown up by it himself, he was literally hoist by his own petard.

We have examples of the idea in scripture, where people are tricked into condemning someone, only to discover that they have actually condemned themselves ... The prophet Nathan does it to Kind David with the parable of the ewe lamb ... and today's parable of the wicked tenants is in the same kind of the same …

But first we must set the scene; this passage begins long before the parable … in fact we have to go back to our readings from the  Sundays for the last two weeks to get to the beginning of it & understnd it properly ... Jesus is teaching in the temple; a place where the official teachers of the law would hold court; a little like our university system today; they see Jesus & basically say: what are you doing here?

They are challenging both his teaching & his authority to teach. And they are hoping that he will try to justify himself & in so doing say something that they can use against him  ... something we see them doing this on many occasions.

Jesus response is to turn the tables on them; first he 'puts them in their box' with his question about John. I'll tell you, he says, if you can answer my question first. They can't, so instead of trapping Jesus or diminishing his authority, they end up looking foolish, diminishing their own authority, and increasing his.

Then he tells two parables against them,
i) parable of the two brothers;
& ii) parable of the wicked tenants

By the time Jesus is finished, the teachers present want to arrest him, because they know he is telling these parables against them …
But the sting in the tail is, I think, that they didn't realise this until Jesus pointed it out to them … they saw themselves as 'the good guys' … they didn't like it or accept it when Jesus said 'O no you're not!' …

Of course, not seeing the danger until it is too late is what makes something a 'hoist by your own petard' situation … and so the question for us today is: are we in danger of being hoist by our own petard when we read passages like this, and perhaps a bit smugly think that they only apply to others long ago?

Because the Gospel are not history books. They do tell us historical facts … but they are much more than that … they are the living, breathing Word of God … they speak to us today … & if all they were telling us was that the chief priests and the elders in Jesus day got it wrong, well they wouldn't be speaking to us … they would only be telling us about something that happened long ago … for my own part, I think these stories serve as a warning to us: to remind us that just as the chief priest and the elders got things wrong, so we can too … that we shouldn't read scripture in a smug or comfortable way ... thinking what we read there only applies to a situation long ago ... or perhaps worse, think that what we hear condemned there only applies to others, but not to us. If we read it and in our mind point the fingers at others, condemning them in our hearts, we might be in for a bit of a shock ... just like the chief priests and elders ... we might be hoisting ourselves on our own petards ... thinking the story condemns others ... only to realise to late that we are really condemning ourselves ... a trap that I pray that I, and you, and all others will never fall into
 … ... Amen.

(based on the notes for my sermon preached on 2 October 2011)

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