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Posts Tagged ‘Mark 12’

Today we look at more teaching from the gospel of Mark and we come to the important Parable of the Vineyard Tenants. I say important because it really gives us Jesus’ own perspective on his ministry and what is about to happen as his time of ministry comes to an end. I want us to look at what this parable means, and draw out some lessons for us to remember as we share in the Lord’s supper together.

Overview of the parable

vs. 1-2 – “And he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.’” [Jesus is using portions of Isaiah 5:1-7 which tells a similar story.]

This setup was not uncommon in that day. You have an absentee land owner who leases out the farm to tenant workers. The agreement would go like this:

  • The owner has the land and sets things up, as he does here: planting the vines and building a fence, a pit and a tower: all that you need to produce wine.
  • And the tenants are to work the farm and give the owner a reasonable return when the harvest comes, several years later (Leviticus 19:23-25).

And so v. 2 ends with the owner sending a servant, “when the season came” to collect what’s due.

The first servant: vs. 2-3 – “ . . . he sent a servant . . .. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.” There were often disagreements between owners and tenants, just as today.

A second servant: v. 4 – “Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully.”

A third servant: v. 5 – “And he sent another, and him they killed.” [This more than meets the requirement of two to three witnesses of their wrong.]

More servants: And if this wasn’t enough already v. 5 continues, “And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed.” He had a lot of servants, but they had all been unsuccessful in collecting what was due.

His son: v. 6 – “He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” “Beloved” means his only son, and so very dear to the father (Genesis 22:2). And this is the only representative the owner had left to send.

Perhaps the owner figured that since his son has full legal authority, and has higher rank than a mere servant – they will have to respect him!

The tenants reasoned differently, however. vs. 7-8 – “But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.”

Maybe they thought the owner was dead since the son came? Or maybe they thought the owner was too old or too far away, or too weak to enforce his claims on the property. By the rules of that day tenants could inherit the land they worked, if the owner and heirs were dead or unwilling to make a claim. So they kill the son and throw him out, without even burying him, a real insult.

Jesus then asks, v. 9 – “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.” The owner is not dead or weak. And there are grave consequences for the actions of the tenants.

The story the parable tells

– is really the story of God and his people and it is the story of Jesus.

  • The vineyard is the people of God – this was a common image in Scripture (Isaiah 5:2, Psalm 80:8-9, Jeremiah 2:21).
  • The owner is God whenever God’s people are seen as a vineyard. The word translated in v. 9 as “owner” is actually “lord,” which has a double meaning, pointing to “the Lord.”
  • The fruit of the vineyard is faithfulness. This is what God’s people owe to God.
  • The servants are prophets, sent by God to call his people to obedience. As Jeremiah 7:25-26 says “From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck.”
  • The tenants are the leaders of Jerusalem. This parable comes in the context of a long argument with the leaders of Jerusalem. And even these leaders, v. 12 tells us, “perceived that he had told the parable against them.”
  • Finally, the beloved son is Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark God calls Jesus this at his baptism (Mark 1:11) and at his transfiguration (Mark 9:7).

First we have, the story that has already happened:

– God did form a people for himself. He blessed them and sought their faithfulness.

– And when they didn’t give it God did send messenger after messenger to call them to obedience. But they refused to listen.

– And now as the culmination God has sent Jesus, his beloved, only Son. The one who has all authority. The one who is dear to his heart.

Then we have the story that is yet to come:

– Like in the parable, the leaders have no regard for Jesus, even though he is God’s Son. In fact, they will soon kill Jesus. And in a shameful way, like in the story.

– But God, his Father, will act. God will “destroy” these leaders, which happened in 70 AD, when Jerusalem was destroyed.

– And God will give leadership of his people to “others,” referring to the followers of Jesus, his Son.

And then we have –

A short Scripture lesson

– attached to our story. Here we switch from the vineyard as an image of God’s people to that of a building or more likely the temple as an image of God’s people.

vs. 10-11 – “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 marvelous in our eyes’?” This comes from Psalm 118:22-23. Psalm 118 was often sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the festivals. It was well known.

Now, the reason these verses are attached to this parable has to do with the wordplay between – the Hebrew/Aramaic word for son, “ben,” which is the focus of the parable, and the word for stone, “eben,” which is the focus of these verses (Matthew Black).

When it says “cornerstone” it is literally “the head of the corner.” It is referring to the most important stone in the whole building. Perhaps the stone at the peak of the arch, or a capstone on a column or a stone at the top of a building that completes it.

In Jesus’ day this was often seen as referring to king David. He was the one overlooked by Samuel at first, and then by the leaders of Israel. But he became the king of Israel.

This was also read by some as pointing to the Messiah, the coming son of David. When Jesus entered Jerusalem just before this, the crowds quote Psalm 118:26 – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” and then interpret it in a messianic way when they say, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10)

The message is clear: Jesus is the stone that was rejected and cast aside by the builders (the religious leaders), but God will vindicate him and raise him up as the chief stone of the whole building. Just as God brought about a marvelous reversal of fortune for David, so God will do this for Jesus, David’s son.

This raising image is an apt one for the idea of being vindicated, as well as for the resurrection of Jesus (Joel Markus).

[These verses also connect to the parable in that they expand a bit on the vineyard being given to others. If David is the original reference in Psalm 118, then Jesus is saying it will be similar now in his case. Just as the kingdom was taken from Saul and given to David and his line, so the leadership of the people of God is now given to Jesus and his followers]

An ironic ending

The passage ends with v. 12 – “And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.” The leaders are seeking to do just what Jesus said they would do, in his parable that they didn’t like!

As we share in the Lords’ supper

– let’s remember some lessons from this passage of Scripture: 1. Let’s remember God’s amazing patience and love. The parable highlights these qualities of God.

God sent three servants. Then God sent even more. God put up with a lot. This shows that he really loves us and wants us to come back to him and for us to be faithful.

Then he sent his son to call us back. Now why would he risk this given what happened to his servants? The only answer is God’s profoundly amazing love for us!

2. Let’s remember the terrible consequences of disobedience. God really does require our obedience. And if we don’t give this, or in this case, if the leaders stand in the way of this – there is judgment. This is what happened in the history of Israel, it is what is predicted in the parable and it is what happened in the fulfillment in 70 A.D.

God is patient and loving, yes. But God will not tolerate sin forever. There is a limit, and a time when we must reap what we have sown.

3. Let’s remember who Jesus is. He is God’s beloved and only Son. He is the one who died, coming to call us to repentance. He is the one who was rejected and cast aside. And he is the chief stone, raised up by God – vindicated and resurrected.

William Higgins

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Today is Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus entered into Jerusalem. And it marks the beginning of holy week.

We are going to look at a story from the Gospel of Mark, sometimes called the widow’s mite, or we can call it the widow’s offering. This story is a part of the holy week drama. It is Jesus’ last public appearance in Jerusalem as a free man, a few days before he’s killed. And this is a story that will challenge some common assumptions that we have about giving.

I would like to acknowledge the middle school Sunday school class who studied this passage with me for the last few weeks and helped me with this message.

Alright let’s break down the –

The Story

v. 41 – “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.”  The “he” is Jesus. And he is in the Temple complex.

“The treasury” probably refers to one of the 13 trumpet shaped chests that were used to collect offerings (not a building; see also John 8:20). The box would have a trumpet shaped opening to receive the offerings. (Something like an old gramophone?) It’s called “the offering box” later in our verse.

These offerings were most likely free will offerings given for sacrifices and the upkeep of the Temple.

This scene took place in the court of women, or the outer precinct of the Temple complex. Jesus was in this area sitting and watching. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I like to sit in the Mall and watch people. And like a mall, there would have been crowds in this place moving about, doing various things.

In v. 41 it says literally that the people were “throwing” their offerings in the box. And this would have made noise as the coins went into the metal trumpet shaped opening of the chest. Maybe like the sound when you throw change into a toll booth receptacle.

vs. 41-42 – “Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.”

Jesus takes notice of the “rich” giving offerings. They were probably well dressed. And they put in a lot. He would have heard this by the sound made as they threw their coins in.

And then he notices “a poor widow.” Widows were typically poor. They relied on their children or charity for whatever they had. Her clothing would have reflected her poverty. She put in very little. Again, Jesus likely would have heard the slight sound of her offering.

How much did she give? The “two small copper coins” she gave were two Lepta. It was the smallest denomination of coins in Israel at this time.

  • Each Lepton = 1/64 of a denarius – or a day’s wage for a laborer.
  • Her two Lepta equaled one Roman penny.

Now admittedly it’s hard to do accurately, but to put it in our terms, based on the cost of bread then and now, if my math is right, she gave something like 8 US cents; eight of our pennies. In her day, she could have bought 1/3 of a loaf of bread. [A loaf of bread cost 8 Lepta. (1 loaf bread = 1 As; 4 quadrans = As; two Lepta = a quadrans). Today a loaf of bread is around $2.50.]

v. 43 – “And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.’”

The disciples were probably close, but Jesus is getting their attention. He wants them to take notice of the poor widow. She is an example to them.

The phrase, “Truly, I say to you,” or it can be translated, “Amen, I say to you,” is unique to Jesus. He uses it 13 times in Mark.

First of all, no other Jewish teacher used “amen” like this. When it was used, it was used the way we use it. The “Amen” came at the end of statements or prayers. It means “yes,” “that’s right,” “so be it” or “truly.” You are making the statement or the prayer your own when you say “amen.”

The whole phrase “truly, I say to you” means something like, this is really important! It’s a way of invoking divine authority. It’s like in the Old Testament when the prophet said, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ but it’s more direct and powerful.

And then Jesus says something that is quite amazing. He tells us that she put in more than all the others combined. How much did all the rich people put in? Thousands and thousands of dollars? She only put in 8 cents. But it was more than the thousands and thousands. How can this be? Jesus tells us in –

v. 44 – “’For they (the rich) all contributed out of their abundance, but she (the widow) out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

The contrast is clear. The rich gave out of their abundance. They gave much more in total, but it involved no sacrifice to them. They still had lots more left over. More for food. More for clothes. More for shelter. And good food, clothing and shelter at that.

She gave all she had. The repetition makes the point clear, “everything she had, all she had to live on.” Once she gave, she had nothing left for food, clothing or shelter; even lousy food, clothing or shelter.

[How does he know that this was “all she had to live on”? Not sure. He knew her; he asked her; supernatural knowledge; perhaps the attending priest asked her, “Is that all you have?” and Jesus heard this.]

Jesus teaches an important lesson here. It’s not how much you give that matters. It’s how much you keep that matters; how much you have left over after you give, that you keep for yourself.

The widow gave more because she gave sacrificially. In fact, she gave everything. She held nothing back from God. The others did not give sacrificially.

Now this widow is not just an example to the 12; she is an example to us. So let’s look at –

Some lessons for us

1. Our assumptions about giving are often wrong. In this story we have yet another example of how God’s ways are different than our ways. And how the coming of the kingdom turns things upside down from the way we naturally think.

When giving to the Lord, we think it’s all about how much you give. And we are quite impressed with people who give large gifts. We honor them and we name buildings after them. We say, wow, they gave more than anybody else!

But as we learned in this story it’s not how much you give, it’s whether you gave sacrificially. So when the person gives thousands of dollars to the church  out of their abundance – that’s great, don’t get me wrong – but the poor person who gives very little money, but gives sacrificially, has given more.

And, in contrast to our way of thinking, it is this one that Jesus takes special notice of and honors, just as in our story.

Connected to this we can ask 2. How generous are we? And what is your standard that you measure this by? Is it tithing or giving 10%?

Now there isn’t anything wrong with using the tithe as a guide. But if that is all we use we are missing the true Christian standard. We should measure our generosity by how much it costs us.

The problem is that most Christians don’t even tithe. Churchgoers give under 2.5% of their income (CT 2/11). So to tithe would be an act of faith for most.

But we can’t conform the teaching of Scripture to our failings; so that we lower the standard. We need to conform our behavior to God’s truth. The true test of generosity is giving sacrificially.

3. We can give sacrificially in other ways. Rightly understood, this woman foreshadows Jesus on the cross, a few days later. Just as she gave sacrificially, Jesus will give “everything he has.” He will do what this widow has done with his life.

This shows that this principle of giving sacrificially goes beyond just giving money. We can give sacrificially in many ways: our time, our homes in terms of hospitality, sharing other things we own, and our lives – serving God and possibly persecution or death.

Here are some examples mentioned in our Sunday School class:

  • Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. Even the son of promise. He held nothing back from God.
  • Steve Kimes, who has a ministry to the homeless and mentally ill, and who invites them to live with him. He and his family have given up much to minister to them – time, privacy, their home, their lives.
  • Gary and Denise Williamson, who have given six years of their lives to go and live in Africa in a different climate, and culture and without most of what we take for granted in our country. They left family and friends behind. And it has been hard at times.

Finally, is God calling you to give sacrificially to him? Your money, your time, your possessions, your life? What might God be calling you to?

William S. Higgins

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