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s134: The Vineyard
Through Mark’s gospel one of the themes introduced is the kingdom of God (ref. Mk. 1:1; 14-15). Part of understanding Mark’s account is understanding the good news of the kingdom: God’s rule and reign on the earth. However, as we move along in the narrative, we begin to see that Jesus’ view and understanding of God’s kingdom is not what many understood or expected God’s kingdom to be. Many had expected God’s Messiah (Jesus) to overthrow political systems and deliver an oppressed people from the Roman rule of the first century.
In Mark’s account, we are brought along as Jesus introduces the kingdom. In (Mark 11), Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem. His time of suffering on the cross was very near. Jesus had made His entrance into the city and people lined the street to praise Him. However, when Jesus entered the temple, He found the temple was not being used for the purposes it was meant to be used for. Instead of being a house of prayer for all nations, it had been turned in to a “den of thieves” (Mk. 11:17). Instead of drawing people to the God of Israel, people were being pushed away, extorted, and taken advantage of. In the account of Jesus cleansing the temple, we are given a foretaste of the judgment of God that is to come. The religious leaders respond to Jesus by questioning His authority.
MARK 11: 27-29 (NRSV)
“Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”
God’s kingdom, the kingdom that Jesus had come to establish was not what people were expecting. Here we see a resistance to Jesus’ message of good news. Tension has been building through Mark’s gospel between God’s kingdom and religious rulers who sought their own advantages and well-being.
Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem and toward the cross. The resistance to God’s kingdom had been growing stronger. In (Mk. 11:18) when Jesus interrupted the temple activities, the scribes and chief priests sought how they might destroy Him. As the narrative moves forward, we are introduced to a parable told by Jesus of wicked tenants (ref. Mk. 12). This parable is related to the account of Jesus cleansing the temple. To understand the actions and words of Jesus, these accounts should be placed and considered together.
Mark is sharing the good news of the Messiah. He is teaching us the good news of the kingdom. The parable of the wicked tenants is related to everything Jesus has been doing since He entered Jerusalem.
The parable itself (ref. Mk.12: 1-12) is somewhat striking because it is a violent parable. A man owns a vineyard and he leases it out to some tenets so that they can tend and take care of the vineyard for him. The owner of the vineyard has taken every care and provided everything for the vineyard to be successful, to produce fruit, and to grow. He has protected the vineyard with a hedge around it, built a wine vat and tower, and has provided everything needed for the vineyard to flourish.
Then the owner sets off on a trip and leaves the care of the vineyard to the vinedressers. This is where the parable takes a violent turn. When the owner of the vineyard would like to have some of the fruit from the vineyard, he sends a servant to the vinedressers. The vinedressers beat the servant and send him away empty-handed. The owner would send two more servants and with each servant we see the vinedresser's hostility increase. Finally, the owner sends his beloved son. Surely they will respect his son and not treat him as they did the other servants. Instead of respecting the son, they take him and kill him. Their thoughts being that if the son is gone the inheritance will be theirs.
THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS
The religious leaders, listening to Jesus, understood the parable. In (Mk. 12:12) “they sought to lay hands on Him.” Why were they so offended by this parable? Jesus was speaking about the judgment that was coming to the house of Israel. Just as He had done through the cleansing of the temple because it was not being used as God had intended. Those who were to be overseeing the activities of the temple had used the temple for their own profit. They had turned the temple into a den of thieves. Israel had rejected the voice of God, they had rejected the prophets. When God had tried to turn their hearts back to Himself, they rebelled. Now, God has sent His beloved Son Jesus. The religious leaders treated Jesus just as the vinedressers had treated the owner’s son.
Jesus had come to establish God’s kingdom—a kingdom unlike what many had anticipated. There were those among the religious leaders who had hardened their hearts to the message of the Messiah. They resisted the good news of God’s kingdom.
WILL WE REJECT HIM?
As Jesus concluded the parable of the tenants, He presented a powerful question and response.
MARK 12: 9 (NRSV)
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
The vineyard will be given to others. The gospel is for those who are willing to accept the message of the Messiah. It is for those willing to receive the good news of God’s kingdom.
In the gospel of Mark, there is a turning point as Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem and the cross. The resistance to the message of Jesus builds as others seek His life. Where do we find ourselves in His story? What will be our choice? Will we harden our hearts and reject Jesus or will we gladly receive His message? The good news of Jesus is for every person (the vineyard will be given to others). His message is for those who are willing to receive Him?