The Bible was not written as the extended edition. It is tight, lean, well-woven, fast-paced. They did not need filler to make a word count. John says that many things did not make the cut (John 20). So why are parables included? What lesson do they teach? Excellent question!
Imagine a world where many people listened to stories. How do you remember them? Repetition, themes. Welcome to the first century. Mark 12 is where the parable of the tenants begins. But back up all the way to Mark 10. Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus, the disciples are a little slow to understand, and many other people are having a hard time with His teaching. Jesus has predicted at least three times that He is going to die, be buried, and rise in three days. Two disciples ask for a prime seat in the kingdom. Jesus heals a blind man. The disciples cheer as Jesus enters Jerusalem…where all His enemies are. So who was really blind? Could Jesus heal the disciples’ blindness, too?
Jesus looks around that night at the temple, leaves. The next day He sees a tree that should have had fruit, but did not. He curses it. He goes into the temple, and stops the buying and selling of animals. The next day, the disciples notice that the tree Jesus cursed has withered. The Pharisees question His authority and He challenges them with a question about John the Baptist. Those who should have recognized Him as King were His enemies. They liked their own system. They were false fig trees that He confronted. How long would Jerusalem last?
Jesus did not tell them what gave Him authority. But He begins the parable of the tenants. A man took great care in preparing the vineyard, protecting it, and arranging for its cultivation. Then he left for another country, and later sent back servants to collect the harvest. They were all beaten or killed. The man sent his beloved son. He was killed as the heir. The man came and threw out the tenants. The rejected rock became the cornerstone.
The Pharisees recognized this was about them, and they were mad! They confronted Jesus about taxes. Give Caesar what you owe him, but give God what you owe Him! He corrected their thoughts on resurrection. And He challenged their rule-based system. What mattered was how you loved.
So what can we learn from the parable?
If the Pharisees recognized that they were involved, and they were mad about it, then they are probably the tenants who kept killing servants of their Lord. Sounds like Israel’s history. God is the man who plants the vineyard. He spoke directly with Abraham, Moses, Joshua, but as time went on the country’s leaders listened less and less. He sent other servants to these people to confront them. It was a dangerous job. They were killed or beaten. And then Jesus came. And He said He would be killed. And the Pharisees and other Jews – the false tenants – would be thrown out. New people? The Gentiles?!
Jesus died. The Holy Spirit came and the disciples were no longer blind. The Gentiles were saved alongside the Jews. They did not fear to confront the established ways. AD 70 Jerusalem fell, the Pharisees were overthrown, the temple was thrown down, and that way of life shriveled.
Resurrection. Jesus lives. And calls us to love.
Are we like those servants He sent to confront Israel? Does Jesus call us to dangerous jobs? Sometimes. What do we owe God if king-stamped coins are owed to Caesar? If the coin had Caesar’s image on it, what bears the image of God? Us.
Context is powerful. How much more if we knew the Old Testament and many references to vineyards and the verses Jesus quotes? Don’t be fooled, there are many more things to examine than are obvious to the casual eye. Context, my dear Watson.
God, please help me learn to listen, to see with opened eyes, to seek Your truth that is often disguised, and stop thinking that the Bible is only good for a one-time pass. Thank You for Your truth, and Your love, and for weaving so much into so little.Please help it penetrate my life and actions. To You be the glory. Amen.