I know that any kind of defeat or humiliation is not the American way, but it is surely the biblical way. There the pattern is rather clear, and there is no going up until you go down. Only our strong cultural bias, or a culpable blindness, would allow us to miss this central biblical theme that is everywhere in plain sight. The examples in Scripture are almost too numerous to count, ending of course, with Jesus himself in his Crucifixion and Resurrection.
In the First Reading we have the early part of the lovely Joseph saga, where in classic sibling rivalry and jealousy, Joseph’s brothers throw him into the cistern, and then sell him into slavery to assuage any guilt over actually killing him. As always, some “manufactured difference” is used to justify the crime, so they write him off as a “master of dreams”! Little do they know that it will be this very dreaming that will one day free them.
Then we have the somewhat contrived allegory, sometimes called “the greedy farmhands.” It is entirely characterized by what I would call a rejecting spirit. The farmhands just need to be antagonistic and oppositional about everything. They “beat, stone, and kill” everyone, and in the final verses Jesus seems to be aiming this parable at the religious authorities. Oppositional energy never knows what it is for, it just knows what it is against. It is sort of a sad substitute for vision, yet negative people feed on it.
This “spirit of rejection” is what kills Jesus, according to the quote that is pulled in from Psalm 118 at the end of the passage. Let’s quote it in full here, because Jesus makes much of it, and realize that it equally applies to Joseph in the Hebrew Scriptures:
“Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders reject is in fact the cornerstone of the whole structure! It is the Lord who does it this way, and it is marvelous to behold.’ It is for this reason that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to others.” Matthew 21:42–43
“Patient God, is it really possible that so many of us could be that wrong? Why do we prefer the winners to the losers, when you were clearly one of the ‘losers’ and always on the side of the ‘losers’?”