On Monday of Holy Week Jesus made His authority very clear, not only over nature by cursing the fig tree, but over the Temple. Now on Tuesday, He returns with the apostles to the temple precincts and engages in teaching and dispute with the chief priests, pharisees, and elders. They demand to know by what authority He acts? He responds by asking them a question. "If you give me an answer, I will tell you on what authority I do the things I do. Tell me, was John's baptism of divine origin or merely from men?"
The pharisees in their worldly "prudence" consider, not the answer, but what will be the impact of their answer on the crowd following Jesus. They aren't interested in truth, but only in their own power and influence. And so, seeing a no win situation, they take the coward's way out. "We do not know," they say. And Jesus refuses to answer their hypocritical question.
He then goes on to tell a parable that enrages them, about the man who rents his vineyard to tenants. But instead of being faithful to their promise to be good stewards and provide the landowner what they owe him at the grape harvest, they beat and drive away the servant who comes to collect. He sends another and they kill him. (This is obvious a reference to the prophets who pretty universally were murdered by their own.) And so the landlord sends his son. And what happens? "They seized and killed him and dragged him outside the vineyard" just as Jesus Himself will be seized, dragged outside the City of Jerusalem and crucified.
Jesus ends this parable with a pointed jab at the pharisees. "The stone rejected by the builders has become the keystone of the structure. It was the Lord who did it and we find it marvelous to behold?"
It's interesting that Jesus ends this as a question. The pharisees don't find it marvelous at all. They're furious and go off sending men after Him "to catch him in his speech." They pose trick questions. "Is it lawful to pay the tax to the emperor or not?" Jesus doesn't have a coin. Carrying a coin with a "graven image" of Caesar on it is forbidden to Jews. But the crafty pharisees readily provide one.
And it goes on. While they gnash their teeth and try to trip Him up, His words prick them to the core. "Be on guard against the scribes who like to parade around in their robes and accept marks of respect in public....These men devour the savings of widows and recite long prayers for appearance sake." Then he points out the humble widow putting her pennies in the collection and praises her.
And then Mark and Matthew both describe Jesus warning of the calamities to come. "Be on guard....Stay awake." And Matthew describes Jesus telling the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins. Be ready!
It is a good meditation for Tuesday of Holy Week as we prepare for the coming Passion.