When speaking of a custodian, we are referring to a person who has a responsibility over something or someone. This responsibility is for taking care of or protecting the object thereof. In the parable in Matthew 21:33 – 46 we see two types of custodians who are custodians of different things. First, the tenants are custodians of the land on which they are supposed to produce fruits and give to the landowner. Secondly, the son is a custodian of the father’s will.
The story that we read in Matthew is set in the temple in Jerusalem. The context places the Pharisees as the custodians of the law. Their duties were to teach the law and maintain the nation as holy for their creator God who demanded a holy nation. These included performing rituals such as the purification sacrifices which were for atonement for one’s sins. The Pharisees were supposed to be the yardstick with which the lord’s holiness is measured among the people. However, they were not so focused on producing a holy nation as they were focused on increasing their power within the Roman Empire and always pursuing opportunities to come out on top. At the same time, they were creating various subscripts to the law which complicated purity and made it harder and harder for the poor to come and atone for their sins. The Pharisees were involved in the creation of temple currency which could only be found at the temple and the conversion rates were very high. Sacrificial animals were also bought in the temple courts making it difficult for one to bring their own animal because no matter how pure the animal was, it would be rejected simply because it was not purchased from the temple courts. This is the background against which Jesus sets out his parable.
The Pharisees very quickly identified with the tenants in the parable because it was clear that it is them. The tenants were supposed to farm the land and present fruits to the landowner when the harvest time came. The tenants however turned away from their responsibility; killing the servants that were sent and later killed the son of the landowner when he came to collect the harvest. They killed the servants because they threatened their plans to keep the fruit to themselves. They killed the son because he threatened their hope of keeping the land should the landowner die. The son had the right to claim what belonged to his father as he was the only heir. Killing the son opened the opportunity of keeping the land to themselves. They had turned away from their responsibility and had become so blinded by power and greed that they did not realize the redemption of their position through the son of the landowner. Similarly, the Pharisees had become so power hungry that they were no longer acting as the custodians of their God-given mandate of producing a holy nation. They looked at their own prosperity and power instead. Their predecessors had killed the prophets that God had sent to purify God’s nation and make them holy; to make them turn from their ways and become holy. Now the Pharisees were en route to killing the son of God.
After the tenants had killed the servants, the landowner sent his own son in the hope of him being respected and returning with the fruit due to him. The son obeyed his father’s will. Both the landowner and his son understood that he might not return alive but the agreement between them would make things right. Whether the son returned or not, the agreement meant that all would be well. The son died pursuing the will of his father. He had come after the prophets had been killed but the agreement between him and the father meant that whether he returned dead or alive all would be well. Humanity would be returned to God whether Jesus returns alive or dead.
In our own world ministers, lawyers, doctors, the police, parents, children and many other people are custodians of different things. Each and every custodian has a task to fulfill. As Christians, we have a task to do. We are commanded in Genesis to take care of all of creation. We are also commanded as humans to love one another as God has loved us. These are just some of the tasks we have to do.
Looking into our churches we find our pastors who claim to be custodians of the gospel truth feeding people snakes, grass, making them drink petrol, raping women, selling prayers and much more in the name of the gospel of which they say they are custodians. They are becoming irresponsible custodians of an agreement that was made between us and God. When we were called to serve; that call did not include a subscript of people performing certain physical actions or paying to access God. It only demanded that we agree to serve and the people have faith to access God. Part of the agreement to serve includes protecting the people of God and rightly dividing the word of truth that is contained in the gospel. It requires us to apply logic to our faith and lead people as Jesus did; doing what we can with our God-given abilities for those we can. This risks us being abused but does not tell us to abuse the people in anyway as we are to be Christ’s servants; the very extension of the servant leadership that Christ displayed.
We live in dire times; a time when churches are bribed by governments and the rich in order to preach what they desire instead of the truth that Christ stood for. Christ did not tear apart the market in the temple because they sold things; it was because the system under which they were selling their goods was based on abusive and greedy practices that oppressed the poor; the very system that the Pharisees were also benefiting from.
The question ‘What kind of a custodian are you?’ calls us to reflect on the type of minister, citizen and human being we are or want to be. It calls us to question our ability to do what is right even when doing what is wrong opens up opportunities for financial gain. This question requires us to choose between being like the tenants or being like the son of the landowner. It pushes us to look at the risks involved in our path and asks us to consider going ahead or stopping our journey if we cannot stand for the truth against all odds. It asks us to evaluate whether we are willing to face the risks of our vocation and stand up or whether we are willing to conform and get into bed with those that want to destroy the people of God. It also asks: “Are we willing to fulfill the will of the Lord who has chosen us?”
[This piece was originally published in SMMS News 2017 December edition]