Summary: What kind of job are you doing taking care of the portion of God's Creation that He has entrusted to you?
If you’re like me, you enjoy a good mystery novel once in a while. Agatha Christi is probably the most prolific crime novelist in history. She wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. Her works have sold over 2 billion copies, an amount surpassed only by the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. Although this message title could have well been one of her novel titles, there’s not much of a mystery in this story. It’s an open and shut case.
Jesus was the master storyteller. We have over 50 parables recorded in the four Gospel accounts, although Mark only includes six. Jesus spoke in parables because He wanted His listeners to dig a little below the surface to find the hidden truth. In the previous passage the Jewish leaders demanded to know the source of His authority. In East Texas lingo they were saying, “Just who do you think you are, anyway? Who gave you the right to go through our temple and bust up our racket? Jesus didn’t give them a straight answer. He answered their question with a question of his own. But then He went beyond giving them a simple answer; instead He answered their question with a parable. And the Jewish leaders were in the story. Before we read the full parable, let’s jump ahead to the end. I know this is a spoiler alert, but I want you to know up front the point Jesus was making in this parable.
Mark 12:12. “Then they 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, let’s go back and pick up the story.
Mark 12:1-12. “He 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 went away on a journey. 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 scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’ Then they 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.
I’ve said many times that to understand Jesus’ parables, you have to peel off the layers like an onion. There is the actual story itself, which should be appreciated simply for its literary value. This is a stand-alone story of the crime of tenants refusing to pay rent to the owner of the vineyard. They eventually murder the owner’s son, and the owner brings them to justice for their crime.
But when you peel off one of the layers, we see that Jesus was using the parable to deliver a message to the nation of Israel. In order to understand this layer you must identify the characters. (1) The owner is God. He created the vineyard. (2) The vineyard represents Israel. God placed them in their own land flowing with milk and honey. (3) The tenants represent the Jewish leaders. They had forgotten God and had turned His temple into a den of thieves. (4) The servants represent the Old Testament prophets. God sent many prophets to warn Israel; the last prophet who was wounded in the head surely is a reference to John the Baptist who was beheaded. (5) Of course, the only son represents Jesus.
We tend to study the parables of Jesus from a human perspective rather from God’s perspective. You can see this tendency in how we name the parables. None of the parables had names in the original text, but some of the newer translations add titles. For instance, we all have heard of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but when you look at it from God’s perspective, it really should be called the “Parable of the Forgiving Father.”