Jesus uses a parable in Mark 12:1-12 (Narrative Lectionary) about a landowner and some wicked tenants to attack the religious leaders of his day. This story also provides two more answers to our question: Who is the Christ? Jesus is the Landowner’s Son and the rejected and true Cornerstone.
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When I was a freshman in college I had a prized possession. It was a pearl white Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. Oh yeah. I loved that guitar.
A friend on my floor asked if he could borrow my guitar for his Halloween costume. He was going back home for the weekend to a big party, then he would bring it back when he returned.
I lent it to him. When he returned I asked for my guitar. “Oh, man,” he said, “I forgot it at home. I’m sorry. I’ll bring it the next time I’m back.”
I was a little upset, but I forget things a lot, so I stayed calm.
A few weeks went by and he kept forgetting. Then a few months went by and he ended up leaving school.
Finally, after he was gone, a mutual friend confessed to me. Here’s what really happened. He was getting a little carried away at the party and he dropped my guitar on a concrete floor…and it shattered.
He didn’t have the guts to tell me the truth.
I never saw him or my guitar again.
Grrrrr…Can you imagine how I felt in that moment? Have you ever felt that way?
That feeling captures a small glimpse of the emotion that Jesus is trying to describe in our story today.
Jesus tells a story in Mark 12:1-12. It is not a story about a borrowed guitar. It is the story of a rented vineyard.
The story is simple. A man has a vineyard and he rents it to some tenants. They misuse his property and want to keep it for themselves. When he sends messengers to collect what is rightfully his, the tenants beat them and kill them. Eventually he sends his son and they kill him, too.
The landowner is angry and he is about to evict the tenants.
Jesus uses this story to attack the religious leaders. Look at verse 12,
“When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.”
The religious leaders are the tenants. They have been entrusted with something. So, we need to figure out what Jesus was really saying to the leaders and what got them so mad.
We also need to ask ourselves this question: What has God entrusted to us?
First, let’s put this story into context with the whole Gospel of Mark.
Something really big happened since last week’s story in chapter 10. Last week Pastor Mark told us about the healing of the blind man. Today we read chapter 12.
We completely skipped chapter eleven because it tells the story of when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We call that the Triumphal Entry and we are saving that story for Palm Sunday in a few weeks.
But, in order to fully understand our text today, we have to know what happened in chapter 11.
Jesus entered into the city and people shouted “Hosanna! Hosanna!” And placed palm branches on the ground for him.
Then he went to the temple and chased out the money changers in a rage. He said harsh things like, “This is my father’s house. It is a house of prayer and you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
You can imagine how the religious leaders must have felt as they watched this scene. Jesus is being totally disruptive to their system.
So, they ask him the logical question.
“By what authority do you do these things?” In other words, “Who do you think you are?”
That is the perfect question for us this Lent. The Gospel of Mark is exploring that question. Who is the Christ?
Our story today, in chapter 12, is part of Jesus’ response.
The passage today shows us two things about Jesus and who the Christ is.
Jesus mixes metaphors in this passage and each metaphor gives us a slightly different aspect of the Christ.
First, he is the vineyard owner’s son.
Second, he is the rejected cornerstone.
Let’ unpack each of these for a minute.
The first question we need to ask is about the vineyard. What does it represent?
The vineyard is an image that has run throughout our whole story and it goes all the way back to the Promise that God made to Abraham.
Israel is blessed to be a blessing to the nations. They are like a vineyard planted in the world so that they can produce the sweet wine of God’s grace so everyone can see who God really is.
The religious leaders are supposed to be working this field for this purpose.
This is where we have to go back to Isaiah 5. This is not a new message. Jesus is saying the exact same thing that Isaiah said to the people of Jerusalem back when Hezekiah was the King. If you’ll remember back to the sermon I did where I stood behind the lecturn the whole time. That was this passage.
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard…I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down…For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel…he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
Now, in Jesus’ day, the King of Israel is Herod and the religious leaders are in charge of the vineyard. Jesus is accusing them of the same thing. They have completely forgotten their purpose and spend all of their time oppressing the poor and trying to protect themselves from Rome.
Then Jesus quotes Psalm 118 and says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
What’s he talking about? What is a cornerstone?
I found this paragraph from Wikipedia that is helpful.
The cornerstone concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.
Jesus is the rejected cornerstone.
In other words, Jesus is accusing the religious leaders of building their whole system on the wrong thing.
Again, this is not a new idea that Jesus is inventing. Jesus did not come to start a new religion. He’s trying to remind the religious leaders of what it has always been.
Look at Psalm 118. The author of this song is pointing out an important truth.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes…I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
Psalm 118:8–22 (NRSV)
Here’s where we get to the real heart of the matter.
How have the leaders done as tenants of God’s vineyard? What is Jesus really accusing them of in this passage?
We have to remember that this is all about the temple and how they have distorted the worship of God.
I had a little fun this week as I was thinking about the temple. I wanted to create a visual that would help us grasp what’s really going on in Jerusalem. It has to do with what King Herod had done with the political and religious system.
In order for us to wrap our 21st-century minds around this I wanted to start with something with which we are very familiar.
Here is an American football field.
Back in the story of Moses, God told the people to build a tabernacle. This was the physical symbol of God’s presence in the midst of the people.
You can see that it is not very big, and it is a tent. The people could pack it up and move it to wherever the the pillar of cloud moved.
God’s people were humble, simple, nomadic and nimble.
Then a few hundred years went by and the people wanted a King. King David wanted to build a permanent structure in place of the tabernacle and his son, Solomon, was able to do it when he was king.
Notice that Solomon’s temple was roughly the same size as the tabernacle. The difference is that it was very expensive, it was beautiful, and it was fixed in one place.
God warned Solomon that God did not want a temple, but would allow it. But, if Solomon, or the people veered away from the purpose, then God would abandon this building and it would be destroyed.
That’s what Isaiah was warning would happen in Isaiah 5.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The Babylonian Empire completely destroyed Solomon’s beautiful temple in 586 B.C.
So, it had been 500 years since Solomon’s temple was destroyed, and now there is a different King in Jerusalem who, at the time of Jesus, had been building a new temple for 40 years.
Check out the size of Herod’s temple…
Every time Jesus walked into Jerusalem he saw this monstrosity, and he was reminded about the direction that King Herod and the religious leaders were taking the people.
What kind of wine do you suppose they were growing in God’s vineyard?
Upon what cornerstone do you think they were building the religious and political systems of Israel?
Herod wanted to become so powerful that he could defeat the Roman Empire.
Eventually, Israel did go to war with Rome, and in A.D. 70…
Rome destroyed that temple, and it has never been rebuilt.
2,000 years later, I believe Jesus still asks us the same questions.
What kind of wine are we producing in God’s vineyard?
On what cornerstone are we building our lives?
What is the cornerstone that Jesus lays down for us?
Another prophet made it very clear.
Micah 6:8 says,
He has shown you, O Man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly,
And to love mercy,
And to walk humbly
With your God.
This Lent we are asking the question, Who is the Christ?
Today we learn that Jesus is the vineyard owner’s Son.
God has entrusted this world and the church to us. We are blessed to be a blessing to the nations, so that all people can see the love and grace of God through us.
This is not our property. We are working for God to serve the world, not to serve ourselves.
Today we also learn that Jesus is the cornerstone.
Our lives are not built upon our ability to do the right thing.
Our churches are not built on brick and mortar, wood and steel.
The church is not built upon the Augsburg Confession, Martin Luther, or the Apostles’ Creed.
Our foundation is Jesus Christ.
He laid down his life for us, so that we might have forgiveness and know the love and grace of God.
And it is through the power of his resurrection and the Holy Spirit that we can produce the fruit of God’s vineyard for the world.
God has lent us a guitar.
We are vineyard renters.
May we be good tenants and builders together.