In the Old Testament, the prophet Nathan tells a parable like story to king David about a rich farmer who takes and kills his poor neighbour’s lamb. David doesn’t realise at first but when it is pointed out to him that the story is about him, it provokes repentance. Jesus sometimes told stories that challenged the religious leaders of his day. Here in Mark 12, we see that rather than provoking repentance, they provoke anger and resentment.
Read Mark 12:1-12
Jesus tells the story of a man who plants a vineyard. He brings in tenants to look after it. They are free to enjoy its produce but are meant to give him a share of the crop. He sends various servants to collect his rent but they are beaten up and sent away and later ones are killed. Eventually, he sends his own son but he too is beaten up and killed. The tenants foolishly believe that by getting rid of the heir, they will be able to claim the land for themselves. Of course, argues Jesus, the owner will not allow this but will now come to punish and destroy them.
The religious leaders realise that the story is about and against them. Israel is sometimes compared to a vineyard in Scripture and so, here we have Israel’s history told as a parable. God had put the kings and priests in charge of his people but they had not been faithful to God. So, Yahweh had sent his messengers, his servants, the prophets to call them to repentance but they’d been ignored, mocked, beaten and killed.
If the final messenger was the son, then this pointed to Jesus himself, he was The Son who had come. How were the religious leaders responding to him? They were seeking his life. Yet, even when they realise that the story is about him, their response is not recognise their folly or to be moved to repentance for their sin. Instead, they become more enraged and plot all the more to kill him.
The parable reminds us that just as with Jesus, so with his followers today. If the world hates us, it is because it hated him. Sadly, even religious leaders too often seek their own gain out of God’s people and look to exploit and abuse.
This then is perhaps a strange form of comfort. If things at times are grievous when we see how religious leaders behave, we are reminded that it was always so and that Jesus predicted it. There are no surprises for him. We are also encouraged because we see that God will not leave evil unpunished. His name and honour will be vindicated. Those who oppose him and dishonour his name will one day have to give an account for their actions.