Bible ourhomewithgodcomToday’s post continues a study of the passages from St Mark’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

It should be noted that the versions of today’s parable as recorded in St Matthew‘s and St Luke‘s Gospels are part of the Lectionary readings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 12:1-12

The Parable of the Tenants

 1 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:

   “‘The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
11this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

 12And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

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In an earlier post several weeks ago I wrote that the parables can be somewhat difficult to understand. It isn’t that often — at least in my churchgoing experience — when the clergy explain them in a sermon so that we can appreciate them the way the Jews did in Jesus’s day.

Although most Jews did not have direct access to Scripture as printed on scrolls, their oral tradition was strong. They would certainly have known the Old Testament, so when Jesus cited certain verses, they would have been familiar with them and their context. Any bystanders listening to this parable would have been able to put the pieces together on at least a historical level. The primary audience — the Sanhedrin — certainly understood the message.

What Jesus related to the Sanhedrin, who had just challenged His authority in the Temple courtyard, is an allegory about God, the Jewish hierarchy and Himself.

Jesus began the Parable of the Tenants with an allusion to Isaiah 5:1-7 (emphases mine):

The Song of the Vineyard

 1 I will sing for the one I love
   a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
   on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
   and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
   and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
   but it yielded only bad fruit.

 3Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
   judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
   than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
   why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
   what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
   and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
   and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
   neither pruned nor cultivated,
   and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
   not to rain on it.”

 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
   is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
   are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
   for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Jesus begins His parable of the tenants with a clear reference to this passage in Mark 12:1. John MacArthur says that the vineyard owner is God the Father, the vineyard represents the potential fruitful faith of the Jewish people and the tenants the Sanhedrin, the guardians of that faith. The journey alludes to the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament.

One thing to note about fruit-bearing plants is that, in many cases, it takes a few years for them to bear fruit. MacArthur says that it takes five years for grape vines to bear fruit. In the context of Mark’s verses, we can interpret this as a reference to God’s patience whilst He waits for His people to bear the fruits of faith. Observe that in Isaiah 5, the fruit was sour even though the vines were the best.

In Mark, when it came time for the first harvest (verse 2), the landlord — still away from his estate — sent one of his servants to collect some of the yield of grapes. The servants mentioned in this parable refer to the Old Testament prophets whom God sent to His priests and people.

In verse 3, Jesus recounts that the tenants beat up the servant and sent him away with no fruit. The landlord sent another servant, whom the servants abused verbally and struck on the head (verse 4). He sent several other servants, all of whom were beat up with some even murdered (verse 5).

The violence and depraved behaviour of the tenant farmers in this parable is astounding. MacArthur ties this back to the equal treatment of the great prophets at the hands of the Jews:

God sent one after another after another after another to Israel to bring to the nation a reminder of His demands and an indictment of their sin. The prophets came. The prophets denounced the sin and called for repentance and righteousness, right? That’s what they all did. To call the nation to produce the fruit for /God’s honor and God’s glory, to give God the harvest due Him, to call the people to holiness and righteousness and true repentance and faith in Him, all the prophets from Moses to John the Baptist…Moses being the first, John the Baptist being the last.

And what did Israel do with the prophets? They rejected them. They mistreated them. They beat them, wounded them, heaped shame on them, threw them out and murdered them. That’s what they did. That’s their history. The history of Israel is filled with the mistreatment of God’s prophets. Justin Martyr in his dialogue with Tripho accuses the Jews of sawing Isaiah in half with a wooden saw. There’s a reference to the sawing in half of a faithful man in Hebrews 11:37, very likely Isaiah, faithful prophet, and they sawed him in half. Jeremiah constantly mistreated, thrown into a pit, you can read that in Jeremiah. And tradition says that in the end Jeremiah was also stoned to death. So when Jesus described them stoning the slaves that came, they might well remember the stoning of Jeremiah.

Ezekiel faced exactly the same hatred. Amos had to flee for his life. Zachariah was rejected and according to 2 Chronicles 24, he also was stoned. Micah was beaten in the face, according to 1 Kings 22. This is a uniform hostility directed at the prophets. The amount of hostility varied, expressed itself in different ways, but on a whole, it increased, it escalated…it escalated, it escalated all the way down to John the Baptist and even he had his head chopped off.

Which now brings us to verse 6, where the parable begins to shift emphasis from the past to the present. Recall that we are in Wednesday of what we now call Holy Week or Passion Week. Jesus knew His death was imminent. In the parable, then, the vineyard owner sent his son, his heir, to collect the harvest. Surely none of the tenants would harm him. He was directly descended from the owner and, as such, the tenants would see him as having authority. However, the tenant farmers did not respect this authority, figuring that if they killed the heir, the vineyards would then belong to them (verse 7). In their hardheartedness, they murdered him and threw his corpse outside the vineyard (verse 8).

In verse 9, Jesus posed the question of what the vineyard owner would do next. By way of answer to the Sanhedrin (verse 10-11), He reminded them of Psalm 118:22-23:

22 The stone the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
23 the LORD has done this,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Jesus was alluding to His being the cornerstone the builders — the Sanhedrin — rejected, just as the tenant farmers rejected the heir to the vineyard.

The Sanhedrin got the message loud and clear, as they were thinking of a way to put Him to death quickly. Verse 12 tells us that they hadn’t yet figured out a way to do this without attracting the wrath of the people, among whom Jesus was, as we know, immensely popular.

So, Jesus is the heir to the vineyard. He came looking for the fruits of faith among the Jews and instead met with His death as instigated by the Sanhedrin.

Through this parable and the Old Testament verses He cited, Jesus announced that God the Father will transfer tenancy of the vineyard of faith from the Jewish hierarchy to the Apostles who would faithfully work in His name, assisted by the Holy Spirit. In Mark 13, addressing His disciples, Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple, which occurred at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD.

Around that same time and on the same subject of the Temple — so magnificent on the exterior but so corrupt and faithless within — Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus’s words to the Jewish hierarchy (Matthew 23:27-39):

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The last verse there tells us that even the Sanhedrin had the opportunity for salvation, however, their hearts were hardened beyond redemption.

In Matthew and Luke’s versions of the parable of the tenants, a verse appears which does not in Mark’s. It relates to judgment. Here is Luke 20:18, where Jesus said of Himself as the rejected cornerstone:

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

Matthew adds another one which clarifies who would share in God’s Kingdom — Matthew 21:43-44:

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

MacArthur said that Jesus referred to an ancient rabbinical saying which all Jews knew well:

The rabbis used to say, “If a stone falls on a pot, it will crush the pot. If a pot falls on a stone, it will shatter the pot.” Either way, whether the pot falls on the stone, or the stone falls on the pot, the results are the same. So whether you fall on Christ, or Christ falls on you, the end is the same.

As the cornerstone, Christ is the stone on which the structure of faith rests. Faithful Christians are part of this. For unbelievers, however — like the Sanhedrin — this divine cornerstone also acts as judge, ready to condemn them to death for their unbelief.

What conclusions should Christians draw from this parable today? How is it relevant to us? Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

If men’s prejudices be not conquered by the evidence of truth, they are but confirmed; and if the corruptions of the heart be not subdued by faithful reproofs, they are but enraged and exasperated. If the gospel be not a savour of life unto life, it will be a savour of death unto death.

We have an obligation in lesser and greater ways to bring the Gospel to our families, friends and others that they, too, might have life.

Forbidden Bible Verses will continue next year.

Next time: Mark 12:18-27