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. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 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. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.
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’?”
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.
Mark 12:1-12 ESV
Perception and reality. What you see can depend of what you let yourself see. There are at least three points of view for this parable.
From the perspective of the man who planted the vineyard (or God, if you will): He did all the work to create a promising growing environment for the vines. The people he had tending the vineyard did very little. In fact, part of their reason for rejecting those who came on the owner’s behalf may have been that they had done nothing to bring in a harvest. When church folk rebel against the idea of evangelism, for example, it is because we who lead them have not dressed the vines. When they refuse to engage with the poor and needy, it is because we who lead them have not pruned the vines or kept them healthy. We leaders are so easily in danger of not seeing clearly where we fit in the story.
And then there’s the perspective of the tenant farmers. What did they think they were doing? Were they protecting the vineyard against intrusion? Or were they trying to guard the secret of their own slothfulness.
Oh pastors! When your people rise up against you, don’t use this parable to suggest that you are the messenger the vineyard owner sent. YOU are the tenant farmer! If the vineyard is not producing fruit it may be because you haven’t done the work that was assigned to you. Are you dressing the vines or are you standing in the way of the prophetic ministry that says the Son of God is coming to you soon? When God’s messenger comes to challenge your work, will your perception allow you to see things as they are? Or will you become defensive and block the deep pruning that God wants to do in your life while he teaches you to prune and tend what has been entrusted to you?
Finally, there’s the perspective of the messengers who came, one after another, for the beating (and perhaps death) they knew awaited them. Once, years ago, I heard the story of a prophet from the mid-west somewhere. I’m going to butcher the story, so if someone out there knows how it actually goes, please forgive me.
The prophet was driving one day and saw a pig in front of a billboard on the side of the road. The Lord was speaking to him that day and told him quite clearly there was something in the scene he needed to pay attention to. The Pig was the standout feature of the scene for sure, and so he tried to make sense of it all. What was the profound relationship between the pig and the message on the sign?
My recollection is that the prophet went back to his congregation and told them something huge the Lord had showed him, a warning of dire events to come if they didn’t repent.
Traveling back that same way later in the day, the prophet stopped again. The pig was no longer there. That was fortunate, because the pig’s body had been blocking the part of the sign that read, “To put your message on this sign call 740-555-1212.” A major part of that churches’ growth that year ended up coming from the sign.
Whether that’s how the story goes or not, the really horrible conclusion to the story Jesus tells is that the Pharisees who were listening to him speak couldn’t see past the threat they felt to clearly perceive the message of the parable. They had missed the sign because of the pig. And their response was to go somewhere else where they wouldn’t have to hear such things, and where, unfettered by Jesus’ words, they could plot how they would finish him off.