After Jesus had cleared the temple of the various merchants, He called out the Jewish leaders for turning the house of the Lord into a den of robbers. This did not sit well with the chief priests and the teachers of the law, as they started looking for ways to kill Him. They questioned the authority of Jesus as each religious group sent their representatives to test Him. This is when Jesus told them the “Parable of the Tenants” which builds on the Parable (Song) of the Vineyard found in Isaiah’s book. The Pharisees were well versed with the prophet’s writings but they did not expect Jesus to reveal the plans that they were hatching through a rendition of the same Parable.
The Parable of the Tenants
Jesus gave the example of a man who planted a vineyard and everything needed to run it efficiently. A wall to protect the vineyard from the surrounding fauna that could creep in, a pit to easily operate the winepress and even a watchtower to fend off any intruders. This man then rented this place to some tenants and went away to live in a foreign land. At the time of harvest, the man sent his servant to the tenants so that he may collect his share of the fruits. Instead, the tenants gave a good bashing to the servant and sent him away empty-handed. They had forgotten the grace the owner showed towards them when he gave them the vineyard in the first place.
According to the Jewish laws regarding sharecropping, the landowner was due his share of fruits from the tenants as previously agreed upon. The man had built everything needed to run the vineyard and rightfully expected a return from the tenants whom he had chosen to look after his land. The man kept sending his servants but all of them encountered the same fate, some even death. At last, the man sent his own son, thinking the tenants would not dare put their hands on him but would show him the same respect that they would have given him.
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.Mark 12:7-8 (NIV)
As religious heads of state, the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests and other temple leaders of Israel had carved out their share of the inheritance, people that they could rule over. They did not even allow Prophets to come to their towns and enlighten the crowds by sharing God’s plan for them. Jesus had also called out the leaders of Israel for killing the prophets that were sent to them (Matthew 23:37). Not only the outsiders, but the Jewish leaders did not get along with each other as well, as the rivalry among the Pharisees and the Sadducees has been openly acknowledged by both parties. Like the tenants who were not interested in getting in the good books of the owner but wanted to extract maximum profit from his land, the religious leaders were also satisfied with their authority over people rather than wanting to please the Owner who gave them their authority.
Even today, some pastors are satisfied with their fellowships and Sunday parishioners, rather than desiring for them to come closer to the Father. Our shortsightedness prevents us from coming closer to God as we are satisfied with only the worldly blessing that we receive. It is the greed for wealth that made the tenants kill their owner’s son and it is the lust for authority that made the Jewish leaders hang God’s Son on the cross. Continuing the parable, Jesus revealed the fate that was awaiting the tenants and their modern-day counterparts. When the owner found out what they had done to his son, he came and killed all the tenants and gave the Vineyard to new tenants.
Ever since the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, the gates of the vineyard have been opened for everyone. The disciples were baptised with the Spirit of Jesus and sent to the corners of the earth to spread the joy that they had found. God enabled them to testify boldly, strengthened them to withstand persecution and death and supported them throughout their ministries. He gave them all the tools that they needed to take the Gospel forward, and all they had to do was share their experience with others.
Even for us, He does the same. He died on the cross, took away our guilt and shame and made us a new creation. Even though we did not deserve it He made us the tenants of His Vineyard. All we have to do is share our fruits. The fruits of His Spirits, the fruits we receive because of our association with Him, He wants us to share those fruits with the people that He sends our way.
“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;Mark 12:10-11 (NIV)
the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
Just like the cornerstone is crucial to the structural integrity of a building or a temple, the Messianic king who was to rise from the line of David was integral to God’s plan for a New Temple. There was a consensus among the scholars of Israel that the cornerstone in the Psalm (Psalm 118) was pointing towards the Messiah. By narrating the Parable of the tenants, Jesus not only shone the light on their plot to kill Him but also clearly told them that in the process they would be killing the Cornerstone, the Vineyard owner’s Son, the Messiah. In their attempts to catch Jesus, each group sent their representatives to question Jesus on various topics.
The Pharisees and the Herodians
Though they are bitter rivals, the Pharisees and the Herodians seemingly were united when they approached Jesus with their question.
“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 to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”Mark 12:14-15 (NIV)
The Pharisees who although were in favour of paying temple taxes, detested paying taxes to the Roman government, the Herodians were strong proponents of the imperial tax. Jesus would have been trapped with either answer, as each group would have taken his words out of context and circulated them amongst their followers. Jesus knew their plans and asked them to bring forward a Denarius and said
“Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”Mark 12:16-17 (NIV)
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Both groups were left speechless. Jesus did not speak in favour of boycotting taxes and did not speak against what God told the prophet, Isaiah, that He does not delight in our sacrifices and offerings but gladly welcomes a repentant heart that comes to Him (Isaiah 1).
Next, the Sadducees, who only followed the Pentateuch (The first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, approached Jesus with their trick question. They quoted one of Moses’ laws, which was meant to safeguard the interest of widows, and turned it into an absurd hypothetic in their lame attempts to trap Jesus.
“Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”Mark 12:19-23 (NIV)
Jesus replied back pointing to the error in their statement as they knew the laws but did not truly understand the purpose of God uniting man and woman. When we are in heaven we would be like the angels who are not married but are always praising God. God created man and woman in His image and united them so that they could fulfil their purpose. Many seem to think that the purpose of mankind is to procreate and that’s why the Sadducees have framed such an absurd example. In fact, God did not ask them to procreate till they were with Him in the Garden.
God united Adam and Eve as one body so that they could accomplish the purpose for which He had placed them in His Garden, to Glorify His name. The purpose of marriage and being united with one another is not so that we can have a support system while we go about our works of the world but it is so that we can support each other when fulfilling our life’s purpose which is praising God at all times. However, when we are in heaven, we will be like the angels and will always be connected with God as He will be our bridegroom. Then there is no need to be united to any other being except God.
Jesus also addressed their disbelief in the resurrection of the dead as He quoted from their own scriptures about how God addressed Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even though the mortal bodies of the forefathers would have faded during Moses’ days, they are alive in Spirit with God as God is not the God of the dead but the living. Hearing both responses from Jesus and having been rebuked for not understanding their own scriptures, the Sadducees did not dare to ask any more questions.
The Teachers of the Law
Next up was one of the teachers of the law who saw the response that Jesus had given to the other religious sects and came forward with a question about the scriptures which he himself would have been well versed in. He asked Jesus that out of all the commandments found in the scriptures, which would He consider as the most important. Jesus responded by quoting two laws one from Deuteronomy (Ch6v4&5) and the other one from Leviticus (Ch19v18).
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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 second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:29-31 (NIV)
On hearing Jesus quote the two laws from the Old Testament, the teacher of the law could not criticise him but commended Jesus for giving the apt answer. When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely he too commanded the teacher of the law by saying that he was not far from the Kingdom of God. After this round of questioning, no one else dared ask Jesus anymore as they saw that He was able to fend off questions from the wisest scholars of their time. Although, He did warn the people to watch out for the teachers of the law.
“Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”Mark 12:38-40 (NIV)
Having silenced those who had questioned His authority, Jesus asked them a question.
“Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:Mark 12:35-37 (NIV)
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’
David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
The religious leaders posed themselves as the ultimate authority when it came to interpreting God’s words but they were not able to answer who David was calling Lord in the above verse. Like all the interviewers who grilled Jesus that day, sometimes we also look at the scriptures from our perspective rather than looking at it from God’s, who is the author of these words. The teachers of the law believed the Messiah to be a literal son of David, born in the tribe of the kings. But what they did not realise is that before there was David, Abraham or even life, there was Jesus, the Son, the Cornerstone, the Messiah.
- Is it fair for the owner to be not involved in the maintenance of the Vineyard but still ask for its fruits?
- In the Parable, the inheritance the tenants were after was the Vineyard but what is the inheritance for which the leaders of Israel had the Son killed?
- Who are the new tenants and what is expected of them?
- Why does Jesus call himself the cornerstone?
- How were the Pharisees and Herodians, who were bitter enemies, united in their efforts to take down the travelling Rabbi, Jesus?
- What was each group of interrogators hoping to achieve?