4 April 2012Mark 12:1-11
"When they realised that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away." (v. 12)
It is Holy Week - just a couple of days before Jesus' arrest and
trial. The atmosphere in Jerusalem was clearly very tense as crowds
of pilgrims throng the city for the Passover Festival. Nobody could
describe Jesus as keeping a low profile in this situation. First he
entered the city in a way that made people think of him as a leader
in the line of King David according to prophecy (Palm Sunday
- Mark 11:1-11); then he caused a riot in the
temple (Mark 11:15-19), leading to an openly hostile
challenge about his authority to act in this way (Mark 11:27-33).
Mark now shows Jesus turning on his enemies and using his powerful storytelling skill against them. Jesus was a master of the parable - a simple-sounding story that turns out to have a kick in the ending. He didn't need to spell out the moral because the audience did that for themselves. This tale is about a vineyard where things go very wrong. Jesus' hearers must have been forcibly reminded of the very famous parable of the vineyard inIsaiah 5, where "the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel" (Isaiah 5:7). It was supposed to produce the sweet grapes of justice, but produced bitter "bloodshed" instead, and so it was destroyed.
In Jesus' tale there is nothing wrong with the grapes, but the workers who have been entrusted with tending the vines and producing the crop have gone to the bad. The religious leaders who distrusted Jesus will have had no difficulty in recognising that he was casting them as the untrustworthy workers supposedly nurturing Israel. After a procession of messengers who are mistreated (the reference is to earlier prophets, like Jeremiah, who told the truth but suffered for it), they finally kill the owner's son.
Mark's first readers were Gentiles (non Jews), and for them the changed ending is highly significant. Unlike the Isaiah parable, the vineyard here is not destroyed but given to others, who would become the followers of the son who was killed.
Jesus seems to have foreseen his own death and done nothing to avoid it - rather, he deliberately provokes hostility. Imagine yourself among the religious leaders of the time. What would you have done about such a person?