The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.
Have you not read this scripture:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
When they realized 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.
The background to this passage is that it is written around the time of the destruction of the temple, under fierce Roman oppression following an uprising by those under occupation. It was a tough time to be part of the Jewish or the fledgling Christian community. A familiar pattern in times of change, when established ideas and patterns are being established is a jostling for position, creating clearer divisions and separation. Centuries old tradition is being thrown into doubt and there is the inevitable kick back reaction.
The Vineyard, an image for and of Israel, is now a symbol of dispute. A new group, known as Christians are laying claim to an inheritance. Those who first heard Mark’s gospel would have heard it very differently than we do today. Their interpretation, in their context, would have identified the religious authorities of their day, the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders as the tenants of the Vineyard of whom Jesus spoke. For new Christians, Jesus’ parable would have confirmed, for them, that they were the new inheritors of the way of Jesus.
Today, Christians are not in that position of being a new fledgling group needing to establish rights with God at the expense of others. Instead, we might see this parable as an invitation to examine ourselves in the context of the kingdom. And to see that kingdom, not as a given right or inheritance, but, as an invitation into community, connecting and responding generously to one another.
(Previously shared as RevGalBlogPals Narrative Lectionary Post)