Ever meet someone who couldn’t be pleased? Maybe the wedding reception offers chicken or fish, and they ask for a hamburger. Or, they get an unexpected gift, and lament that it isn’t the right color.
I regret that I have been this sort of person, before. For instance, I remember one time when I was in grade school. The teacher had prepared nice gifts for the class, including a picture of a little skit we had put on (a story of Pecos Bill, maybe?) that year. Rather than expressing gratitude, I complained that I didn’t look very good in the picture. (Had I known that even my limited cuteness as a kid would fade rapidly as I aged, I should have been much more grateful of a record to prove that I didn’t always have gray hair!) That was not my finest moment.
In one of His parables, Jesus included the following statement:
“But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’
Matthew 21:38 NLT
These tenant farmers didn’t own the estate. While they were contracted to maintain it, they were not the owners. The person who had made it possible for them to grow crops (and keep a portion of it) expected that the lease would be honored. You can read the rest of the illustration in Matthew 21:33-46.
Here, the lessees hadn’t properly understood their place. Today, even in modern organizations, most people know that an employee – even an empowered employee – does not get the same authority as the person in charge. (Those who don’t figure this out quickly, and learn to honor authority by expressing their opinions with respect, can find themselves on a short path to no longer being employed.) Even a CEO of a publicly-traded company is typically beholden to a board of directors, and ultimately the shareholders (unless the CEO happens to also be the majority shareholder).
Authority over something ultimately belongs to the owner, not the contracted employee. In the same way, the Kingdom of God belongs to, well, God.
Compared to many job situations, the Kingdom of God has a far better “boss”, is perfectly and uniquely fulfilling, and has a retirement plan that is literally out of this world. Sometimes, though, followers of God can forget who is in charge.
The parable Jesus was teaching sounds like it was primarily referring to the historical persecution of prophets by [often-corrupt] leaders in Israel, as well as the eventual crucifixion of Jesus. Certain (although not all) religious leaders in that day liked their role of authority (among their fellow people) more than was healthy. For them, it was so attractive to retain their appearance of authority and control, that perhaps they forgot who was ultimately in charge of God’s people.
In the same way, it is important for followers of Jesus today to remember their position in the Kingdom of God. God has selected many human leaders and contributors to have a role in His plan. However, none of them are the owners of the Kingdom.
Even the most successful preacher, who shares God’s message with thousands of other people, is still a “tenant farmer”, helping to point people to salvation and discipleship. An elder or other leader of a group of believers is not watching over his or her “empire”, but only the portion of God’s flock that God has entrusted to be shepherded.
Authority is a tough thing to handle, and it can pull people (including me) towards pride and over-confidence. One of the easiest paths to proper humility, though, is to remember one’s place…and Who is in charge! The Kingdom of God is not for us to take over, but is instead a kingdom in which we work, in order to return God’s “proceeds” to Him.
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT