For Lent 3
Text: Mark 12:1-12
Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.
I’m not sure what the owner of the vineyard was thinking, when he sent his own son to collect the fruit. Was he just not paying attention to what happened to the people he previously sent? Things kept getting progressively worse, from beatings to murder! Why in the world would he send his own son into that situation? This parable that Jesus tells is unsettling and troublesome.
So let’s begin with a little bit of context. This passage is located squarely between two significant events: Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his overturning of the tables in the Temple, and the Last Supper and his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. In other words, the events of Jesus’ final week have already been set in motion when he tells this parable. The tension has already started to rise. The chief priests and teachers of the Law had already started to look for ways to kill him. When Jesus tells this particular parable, it was directly to the group of leaders who came to confront him and challenge his authority.
When Jesus tells this parable, he locates himself firmly within the story of Israel. He locates himself in the line of prophets who had spoken on behalf of God. He locates himself as one, who like the prophets, spoke truth to power. And yet, unlike the prophets who were simply servants of the God of Israel, Jesus is his beloved son and heir.
It is extremely important to recognize that in this parable, Jesus is not slamming Israel. This is not a parable about how the church somehow replaces Israel. It is not a parable that accuses Israel as a whole of going after Jesus. Rather, it is a parable that is meant to remind this particular group of leaders that they are the ones who are no longer aligned with God’s message. They are the ones who are seeking to hold and maintain their own power and authority, so they will do anything to squash one who challenges that. This is important to recognize because this parable has a history of being interpreted as a slam against Israel as a whole. It has a history of being interpreted as a supersessionist parable (which means it is read in such a way that allows for the wholesale dismissal of the Jewish people, believing that the covenant God made with them is made null and void through the birth of the Church – a reading that is both false and dangerous).
So what is at the heart of this parable? Ultimately, Jesus is trying to show this group of chief priests and the teachers of the Law that in their aspirations to kill him, they are placing themselves in alignment with the ones who have, in fact, been the enemies of the prophets of God, and accordingly, God’s self. He’s warning them that they have forgotten who they are and whose they are. When they are more concerned about keeping their own power and authority, they have lost their way.
In this way, the parable is a reminder to us as well. When we seek to gain and hold power for ourselves, we have lost our way. When we fail to live in speak in such a way that aligns with the message of the prophets (which is ultimately about loving God and neighbor, especially the vulnerable neighbor), we’ve forgotten who we are and whose we are. When we undermine the message and the work of Jesus for the sake of what seems best for our own interest, then Jesus speaks this parable to us, just as much as he spoke it to this particular group of religious leaders. Jesus says to us all, let those who have ears, hear.
o What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o Where do you find yourself in this parable?
o What do you find challenging in Jesus’ words?
Consider the message of the prophets, which was most often to turn away from false idols and to care for the vulnerable. What might you do this week to heed their message? Consider any kind of false idol present in your life that you need to turn away from. What might it be? The need to be successful or admired by many? Money? Fixation on having the latest technology? Shopping? What might you do to turn it loose?
Consider what you might do this week to care for someone who is vulnerable or hurting.
God, you call me to love and serve you, rather than myself. Give me the courage to stand in the long line of your prophets who did not seek power for themselves but sought only to communicate your goodness and truth. Let me walk with Jesus. Turn my heart towards him in all things. In his name, I pray. Amen.