Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wednesday in Holy Week: The moment of truth

Opening Sentence
To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, because we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following the laws which he has set before us. Daniel 9:9, 10

Collect of the Day
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 55

Lessons: Lamentations 2:1-9, 14-17; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11; Mark 12:1-11

With many of Jesus' parables, the meaning is so veiled that even the disciples have to ask the Lord in private for clarification (see Mark 4.10ff). That is not the case with the parable of the tenants. Jesus' message is so crystal clear that even the religious leaders get it. In v. 12, inexplicably omitted from today's reading, Mark writes, "And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that had told the parable against them."

Even the most casually observant Jew in Jesus' day would have been familiar with the image of Israel as God's vineyard which, contrary to its purpose, had yielded wild grapes (Isaiah 5.1-7). Jesus tweaks this image just a little, but not in a manner which would have been thought unusual. The vineyard owner (God) sends servants (prophets) at harvest time to get some of the fruit. Time after time, the servants are mistreated by the tenants; some beaten, some killed. Israel's history was laced through and through with stories of prophets who had been ignored, rejected, and even put to death for trying to call the people back to faithfulness to the God who had set them apart to be a light to the nations.

The worst, however, is yet to come. The vineyard owner's final attempt to get fruit from his vineyard would involve sending his own "beloved son." The tenants, now obsessed with holding on to the vineyard for themselves, will kill the son, thinking they will rid themselves of the troublesome owner forever. They will inherit the vineyard themselves, or so they think.

The placement of this parable, coming close on the heels of Jesus' action in the Temple, is significant. It was in direct response to the cleansing of the Temple that the religious authorities began "seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching" (Mark 11:18). The parable, then, is a recounting of Israel's history of unfaithfulness from the days of the prophets right up until the day Jesus entered the Temple. The moment of truth had arrived for the religious leaders who so craved holding on to their power. Here was a man who came teaching with the kind of authority that instilled fear in their hearts. They ought, rightly, to submit to him. Instead, they choose to do away with him.

It is the owner of the vineyard, however, who will have the last word. "He will come," Jesus says, "and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others." The old order, symbolized by the Temple, will be overthrown and a new order will be ushered in; one in which Jesus himself will be the centerpiece. "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."

In the end, as in the beginning, God is the owner of the vineyard. The original tenants may not have been faithful, but that will not hinder his plan. The vineyard will bear fruit under the stewardship of new tenants, a people chosen by him from the foundation of the world and redeemed by the death of his beloved Son. ". . . this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

(JAG)

Lift High the Cross