49. Mark 12:1-12: Parable of the Tenants




This parable Jesus tells against the religious leaders who have just questioned his authority (11:27ff.) and will immediately after this try to delegitimize him and his movement again (12:13-18). When they realize this they want to arrest him. Only the goodwill of the people toward him keeps him free (v.12).

Jesus sets this up in the form of a well-known parable about Israel. In Isa.5:1-7 we read about God’s planting Israel as a vineyard. God did everything that could be done in preparing and provisioning the vineyard for the successful production of grapes. However, the vines only yielded wild grapes, good for nothing. God decided to judge it for this failure, their failure to produce the justice God expected and prepared them for.

The prophets have been sent and re-sent and rejected again and again with increasing ferocity by the leaders. Finally, one final prophet comes, this one, however, is more than a prophet. He is the owner’s “beloved son,” the heir apparent. Surely the tenants will not mistreat him!

That “beloved son” now stands before those greedy and rebellious tenants. A violent takeover of Israel is underway and it has Jesus in its cross-hairs. If they carry it out to the end and do away with the son, what will the owner do?

Well, judgment, of course. “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others” (v.9). But what will that judgment look like? In Jesus’ perspective this judgment is surely the coming desolation at the hands of the Romans in 70 a.d. The Jews as a people will be “destroyed” and God’s mission in the world will be given to the Abrahamic people Jesus has gathered and trained during his ministry. As the scripture itself promised;

‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
11 this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is amazing in our eyes’?”                                            (Psa.118:22)

This scripture is essentially Jesus’ answer to the question of authority posed in the previous story: whence your authority? It comes from the role he plays in the working out of God’s great purpose. It also lays the foundation for his response to the tax question. A great division is coming for Israel, a division parsed as Caesar or God. It presses on them now, now that Jesus is here in Jerusalem.

As Sherlock Holmes might say, “Come, Watson, the games afoot!”

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