top of page
  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

25-02-24 - A MAN PLANTED A VINEYARD - Mark 12:1-11



Most of us love a good story.  Neuro-scientists tells us when we read a story, our neuron activity increases fivefold, our brain lighting up like a switchboard that suddenly illuminates the city of our mind.  There’s something about story that lets us escape to another place, another time.  Not so much a different time in history but a different time than where we’ve spent the last several hours cleaning up, yet again, after the kids; communicating with customers, especially those who are difficult or struggling with some homework that doesn’t make sense.  

And to escape all that, a retreat into a story taking us into an entirely different world.  There are different kinds stories of course.  There are those that do little more than entertain, others helping us see perspectives we otherwise would have missed.  Some beginning with a dramatic event but most gradually unfolding - we standing on the outside looking in, more spectator than participant.  We watch but don’t enter in, we see but don’t engage, we observe but don’t feel.  And yet as the story unwinds, we are drawn in, emotions fully engaged - a gasp of surprise, a fear racing heart, an explosion of joy.  

Because that’s what a good story does, drawing us in.  The Bible gives us a story like that in Nathan’s ‘face to face’ with David.  He confronting David about his sexual sin with Bathsheba, her resulting pregnancy and then his failed coverup - culminating in the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah.  Yet he seemingly escaping the storm, his guilt hidden until the prophet Nathan comes and tells the king a story about a lamb.  In it a very wealthy man who owns much and a poor man who owns little.  The rich man with his flocks that are too numerous to count and the other with ‘flock’ of just one small lamb.  This lamb, loved so much we’re told it was like a daughter to him.  Listen how the story goes:

Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him. 2 Sam 12:4

When King David hears what this rich man has done, he is livid and demands that immediate justice.  Now Nathan, having David exactly where he wants him, points the finger, You are the man!  And in that moment David is exposed.  Unable to hide from what he has done.  Unable to offer any excuse that would lessen his guilt.  

Nathan’s story told to get David to see, more importantly, to feel his guilt in order for him to truly own the outrageous thing he has done and for him so see the depravity of his sin. In large measure until Nathan does what he does, David like us, is better seeing the sin in others than he is able, we are able, to see the sin and evil in ourselves.  Instead, our predisposition to justify, to minimize, to explain.  Everything other than what needs to be owned.

It’s why many don’t have a truly transforming relationship with Jesus because we don’t really understand the depravity of our sin.  We know that we were ‘less than’ but a sinner to any great degree? Surely not compared to .... as we do our David dance to minimize as we move away from the nearness of the Cross so the light shone on our guilt is less intense.  Jesus’ suffering on the Cross more the result of what they did, their sin, not our own.  

The trouble is Jesus isn’t on the Cross because of their guilt, He’s there because of ours – yours and mine.  The Cross calling us to own what is ours, sometimes God using story to bring that truth home.

And it’s kind of story, we are called to look at this morning.  And to set the stage for this story, we first need to understand the cast of characters and the worldview from which they come.

The first set of characters are the Pharisees.  They are the religionists who carry their rulebooks with them wherever they go. Okay, not literally but definitely, attitudinally.  They were moralists whose role was to tell others how to live, seeing themselves as God-appointed messengers who determined the things done and not done that would please God.  In fact their religious rulebook was a rewrite of God’s 10 commandments - their version as they saw it, an improved, comprehensive standard that included 613 commandments divided into things to be done - for which there were 248 commands and things you dare not do for which they had penned 365 rules. These Pharisees banking on their good, the ‘we judge others not ‘ourselvers’ 

All this ironic because when Jesus later is asked what is the most important commandment, He actually reduces the 10 commandments to 2.  The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The 2nd is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.  Mk 12:29-31 

Those summarizing what the 10 speak to.  But the Pharisees’ rulebook gave them a holier-than-thou justification to keep themselves separate from others who they determined were unworthy. 

The 2nd group of 2nd cast members, who we see arm in arm with the Pharisees, are the Herodians.

The Herodians are secularists who combine the political and the religious.  These are the, “I’ll live in both worlder’s’ to achieve most immediate gain – a little bit of God, a lot of everything else. As their name implies, they were a political party who wanted to restore a Herod to the throne that would keep them close to the seat of power.  The Pharisees on the other hand wished to restore the kingdom of David.  These differences made them bitter enemies, wanting nothing to do with one another unless they could unify around something they hated more.  And what they hated more?   Jesus. 

So those are two sets of our cast members leaving one more, the Sadducees.  Different from the religionists and secularists, these were the rationalists. These were a group often described as educated, influential and wealthy.  While the other two might be characterized by what they believed, these are better known for what they don’t believe.  While the other two might be characterized by what they believed, these are better known for what they don’t believe.  Like miracles for a start.  There was no heaven or hell.  No angels, no afterlife and importantly, no resurrection.  All their beliefs were centered only in what was taught in the 1st 5 books of Moses.  These are the ‘cut and paster’s’ selecting their own version of the God they will believe.

So why is this important?

Because it puts in context the major teaching in Mk 12, but before going there, let’s look at some events with these characters.  

In the first event, the Pharisees and Herodians come to Jesus and ask Him a hot button question, They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right t pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?  Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”  :14,15 .

Boy, don’t you like how they start? respectful, admiring, affirming.  But as is so often the case, appearance is far different than reality.  Though their opening words are, ‘we know you are a man of integrity’, they have spent hours trying to prove him guilty of wrong.  So while the words said may be true, they are said through gritted teeth, no praise intended.  This isn’t admiration, it is resignation, their hearts still set on accusation if they can find the evidence they need.    

And they think they have.  This time, they believe they’ve set up the inescapable so accusations will stick.  As a matter of fact the Gk word used, παγιδεύω is used for snaring birds with a net.  If Jesus says, Pay the tax, He is validating Rome’s presence which would pit Him against the people who deeply resented Roman rule.  And by accepting the Roman coin bearing the image of Caesar as divine, He could be accused of suggesting the coin was lawful which could be perceived as violating the 2nd commandment.  Either of these would give the Pharisees all the evidence needed to publicly discredit Jesus.  But if Jesus told them, not to pay the tax, then the Herodians had what they would need to condemn Jesus. An answer like that would be siding with the insurrectionists and their rebellion against Rome.

As you can see, it’s a well-crafted strategy around an already hated issue - taxes.  There were taxes on imports, exports, bridge-tolls, roads, land and outside of these, there was a Temple tax.  As bad as those were, they could be lived with but what couldn’t be lived with were taxes paid to Rome, a tax the zealots refused to pay.  In effect, the Jews were financing their oppressors’ oppression and they hated that. 

So the topic was red hot – and in this, the Herodians and the Pharisees both standing there with their nets primed, ready to ensnare this bird according to their carefully constructed plan. 

But :16 tells us, But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?  And after exposing their hypocrisy, He asks for them to bring Him a denarius as He proceeds to cut their nets to shreds, Whose image is this? 

And when they say, Caesar, Jesus’ response, Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.   Left speechless, we’re told, They marvel at Him.  This bird not only refusing to be caught but turning the trap upon those who set it.  

Had His enemies been smart, they would have called it quits but that’s hard to do when you believe yourself better and wiser which brings the Sadducees into the picture.  They putting in front of Jesus a ludicrous question about a woman who marries, her husband dies; she re-marries, he dies and on it goes. And then they lean in with their question, In the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all 7 had her as a wife :23.

The question is ludicrous on so many levels, above all, the Sadducees don’t believe in resurrection so why were they asking about something in which they didn’t even believe?  But intellectual arrogance is hard to let go of so in His response, Jesus comes right at their scholarly pride.  They’d had arbitrarily determined what was reasonable to believe and miracles and God’s power had no part in that. 

They had also determined that outside of the things Moses wrote, there was no more to be said.  Yet even with this, they were great disconnects.  How do you believe Moses and yet not believe the miracles of which He speaks?  How do you lay hold of the laws Moses writes by which we are to live but not lay hold of the mighty power of the God who wrote, inscribing them on stone – a power from which Moses had to hide? That power by which He would tear down Jericho’s wall, who would raise a widow’s son to life, who’d shut the mouths of lions, who made an invading army go blind.  But they didn’t want to look at anything like those because it didn’t fit with the things they had chosen to believe.  No wonder Jesus said of them, You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?  Mk 12:24  In short, Jesus accusing these who considered themselves wise, of being ignorant.  Romans says it this way, Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools Rom 1:22.

So these are the cast of players – the religionists, the secularists and rationalists - now with those in mind, let’s go back and see the part they play in the story Jesus told at the beginning of this chapter, 

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”   Mk 12:1-11. 

The story told in a setting familiar to them, a vineyard with a wall of protection, a pit for the winepress and a watchtower.  The owner establishing everything necessary for a productive vineyard.  And with that in place, he gives its care over to those who are to manage it while also enjoying some of its bounty.  At the beginning, all is functioning well until treachery sets in.  The owner wanting to have some of his vineyard’s bounty, is met with a coup, the renters deciding to change the terms of possession.  No longer wanting to rent, they demand to own. Not owning by price.  Not owning by gift.  But owning by seizure, by entitlement.  And so the owner’s messengers who are sent to get some of what is his are met with violence - aggression that humiliates, that assaults and that kills. One victim upon another, one murder after another.

Those hearing this story are outraged, some like wealthy Sadducees and Pharisees, likely vineyard owners themselves.  No doubt they would have been responding to these tenants far differently than the one in this story.  After first refusal, they would have enlisted force, no doubt marshalling the support of other owners as well.

If that action wasn’t put in motion before the vineyard owner’s son was killed, it was definitely warranted after he was killed. ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. Mk 12:7,8  

To this point the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians are still rooted in the story not seeing where this story is headed, even as Jesus asks the question of them, When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

And it’s at this point Jesus steps out of the story of the vineyard taking them to another picture, this one that they immediately recognize, The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

It’s now that we read :12, THEN the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

Now they understand that the story Jesus told is about Israel; the vineyard owner about God and the tenant farmers about them, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Herodians who killed the prophets who had come before.  Prophets killed like Isaiah who was sawn in two with a wooden saw or Zechariah murdered in the Temple precincts or Jeremiah, thrown in a slimy pit and later stoned.  But far more important than that, Jesus putting before them, that they are those who are rejecting and will soon kill, the vineyard owners’ Son who had been sent to them. 

This parable a powerful indictment of the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees but as in any parable, the story not restricted to them but to all who reject the Vineyard Owner and His Son who had been sent to them.  Rejecting Jesus like the religionists, the secularists, the rationalists today, who are relying on their goodness, their efforts to earn their place with God. And it speaks to those who want to keep a foot in both worlds, the secularists who want to have a little bit of God and a little bit of living the way I want.  Doing our Sunday morning God part and then committing the rest of the time to other pursuits, other desires, other gods.

And yes, also relevant to the rationalists who want to define the gods they want to believe in.  Following the truths they think are reasonable. In some way, these are the creationists, who formulate their own god of how their lives should be lived.

To all, this parable saying if you trying to come to God in any way - a good life, a sincere life, a devoted life - other than Jesus, you are rejecting the Cornerstone, the only foundation on which everlasting life with God can be known. Jesus taking them back one more time metaphorically to look at the Temple – a building they so treasured.  Jesus wanting them to see that He, God’s Son, is the only foundation on which God’s house can be entered.  As Peter states He is, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious 1 Pet 2:4  Jesus, the cornerstone of everything God is doing but for those who refuse to believe, we are told He is a stumbling stone and a rock of offense to those who refuse to believe. Rom 9:33, 1 Pet 2:8.   

Accounts are told of a time during the settling of the west, pioneers flocked across the country to California and Oregon. In one particular spot on the Eastern slopes of the Rockies there was a large, dirt covered rock protruding in the middle of the trail. Wagon wheels were broken on it and men tripped over it. Finally someone dug up the odd stone and rolled it off trail into a nearby stream. The stream was too wide to jump over, but people used the stone as a step to cross the cold creek. It was used for years, until finally one settler built his cabin near the stream. He moved the odd stone out of the stream and placed it in his cabin to serve as a doorstop.

As years passed, railroads were built and towns sprang up. The old settler’s grandson went East to study geology. On a visit to his grandfather’s cabin, the grandson happened to examine the old lump of stone and discovered within that lump of dirt and rock was the largest pure gold nugget ever discovered on the Eastern slope of the Rockies. It had been there for three generations, and people never recognized its value. To some it was a stumbling stone to be removed. To others it was a stepping-stone, and to others it was just a heavy rock. But only the grandson saw it for what it really was—a lump of pure gold. 

A stone – for some an impediment, in the way of where they wanted to go.  For others a stepping stone providing momentarily assistance to get over an immediate difficulty, for another, something just there to make life easier when needed.  And yet for one – a treasure of immense value.


0 views0 comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page