Mark 12: 1 -12.
Has God offended you recently?
It is easy to miss the truth that our Lord was not passive in his confrontations with the religious leaders of his day. He was quite deliberate and intentional in his attacks on their unacceptable behaviour and they took great offence at this.
In the same way, we can easily forget that many of the most frightening images of God’s anger and judgement are found not in the Old Testament but in the New and many of these were brought to us by the Lord Himself during the last week of His life. Conversely, many of the most intimate and loving images of God come in the Old Testament.
This last point is significant here because it reminds us that the people the Lord is addressing in this passage were not unknown to Him; He is addressing Israel, the apple of His eye, the nation with whom He has entered an eternal covenant to love and protect. But beyond this, He is addressing an even more unique group chosen to reveal His love to His chosen people, namely the priests and religious leaders of Israel. These are the beloved of the beloved, yet this does not preclude them from the Lord’s anger. And so it is with us.
Hence, we can see that this story is deliberately targeted at this uniquely privileged and divinely appointed group.
It begins with a very familiar situation, with an absentee landlord. Having built his vineyard, he leaves the country but at harvest time he sends his servant to collect the rent, paid for with the first fruits of the harvest. It could well be that some of Jesus’ hearers were tenant farmers themselves and so when the tenants in the story refuse to pay their dues, the audience has some sympathy. The story becomes even more appealing when the tenants refuse to pay a second servant sent by the landlord. Now, however, the story begins to take some surprising turns. First, the landlord sends a yet another servant but this one is killed. The crowd would begin to grow uneasy as it senses that the tenants may have gone too far this time and are in danger of suffering the landlord’s wrath. Thereafter, each servant sent by the landlord is either beaten or killed. Finally, the landlord does something unheard of, he sends his son to collect the rent. The situation for the tenants is now critical. This is the man who will one day become their landlord, their only hope is to fall on their faces before him and plead for mercy. But, to the crowd’s amazement, rather than pleading for mercy, the tenants kill the son. The shock would be palpable. What were they thinking? They have destroyed any hope of receiving mercy from the landlord and can expect only judgement and punishment, which is what happens.
So why was this so offensive to the religious leaders? Well, in the Old Testament, a vineyard was always used as an image of God’s people. As the representatives of God’s people, it was the priests’ role to ensure that every offering due to the Lord was brought to Him but the Lord is clearly accusing them of not doing this and openly rebelling against all those the Lord had sent to correct their errors. As if to reinforce the message, Mark immediately follows up this story with one about Jesus discussing the payment of taxes to the Romans. He finished by commanding the Jews to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s but to pay to God what is God’s. This is exactly what the religious leaders were not doing.
For us, this story highlights the same inclination to rebel against God’s right to rule over our lives. So often we are inclined to take the role of landlord as opposed to that of tenant, to be the master not the servant and, just like the tenants in the story, it is only when the Lord addresses us face to face about these matters that our true motives are brought into the light. It is when the Lord makes specific demands on us that, just like the tenants and the religious leaders, the attitude of our hearts is revealed.
During Holy Week we are reminded that, when the Lord confronts us in this manner, there are only two possible outcomes; we will confess Him or we will curse Him, we will adore Him or dessert Him, we will crown Him or we will curse Him.
May the Lord grant us the grace to heed the warning in this story and to confess, adore and crown Him as Lord of all our lives this Easter.