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)
Yesterday we saw how violent men try to take the kingdom of God by force. Here again in Mark 12 we have another example. “This is the heir,” said the violent men. “Let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” They didn’t want to be heirs themselves. They simply wanted to own the vineyard, which belonged to the landowner and would presumably pass to his son upon his death. They were not looking for fruit. They were looking for ownership.
And aren’t we so often guilty of the same thing? We are blessed to be part of a church, and what do we do with it? We jockey for position and power. We want ownership. That’s what fuels so many of the divisions among us. Every church, it seems, has owners. This is one of the great sins of the church. We are merely tenant farmers. We’ve been granted the profound blessing of being invited to tend the vineyard. But so often the tenant farmers rise up in revolt against either fellow farmers or those who come among them to help tend the vineyard.
Making wine is no simple task. You have to really know what you’re doing. A master vintner is someone who has labored long to gain the skills to do more than just grow grapes. He has to know when to pick the grapes. He has to know how much water they need. He has to have the right kind of barrels to put the grapes in. He has to know when to turn the barrels. He has to know what temperature the cellar must be. The list is so long, we can’t even imagine it. He is a master at what he does.
A good pastor is like a master vintner. Given the opportunity, he will come among the tenant farmers and will help them to grow the skills to grow and harvest the grapes.
There are two errors to watch out for. First, so often the people see the pastor as a hired hand they must teach “how we do things here.” When that happens, the results can be disastrous. When he tries to lead, they invariably resist. The harder he tries to get his agenda accomplished, the more push-back he gets from them. Finally, and usually at some public meeting, the tenants rise up and strike the vintner. If you were choosing a wine and knew it had been made in that kind of atmosphere, would you buy it?
The second error is one we pastors make. We who pastor in the church must hold the people we care for – the fruit of the kingdom of God – with the same loving care a master vintner would use. We must not busy ourselves trying to discipline the leaders of our churches until they submit to our ways. Rather, we must come among them and demonstrate how we love the grapes, not how to manufacture a product. “More is caught than taught,” the old saying goes. They need to see how it is done, not hear how we want it done.