A man planted a vineyard and built a wall round it.

Today we restart the series on Mark.

We continue our study at chapter 12.

We have another parable.

The parable of the tenants.

It would seem that this parable is an allegory.

An allegory is a parable when the various bits in the story stand for something or somebody else.

We saw an example of this in the parable of the sower.

We are also used to this when we watch a film where the goodie often dressed in white is fighting the baddie usually dressed in black.

Or it may be superman saving the world.

These usually tell the story of good winning the battle over evil.

I have to admit I find allegories rather boring, especially when their meaning is rather obvious.

To understand this parable it is useful to look back at the previous few verses to discover the context.

You may remember that Jesus had had yet another run-in with the authorities.

They had questioned his authority after turning over the tables in the temple

He then told the story that we had today

In the time of Jesus vine growing was a major form of agriculture and, as happens today, there would be tenant farmers.

The owners taking either a rent or a proportion of the profit from the venture.

Some of these landowners would, undoubtedly, screw their tenants for as much as they could get.

In Isaiah 5:7 we read that The vineyard of that story  was Israel so it is not unreasonable to assume that this also applies to this parable.

Jesus was referring to Israel and his audience would have known that.

Again, if Jesus was referring to Israel then it would be assumed that the owner of the vineyard was God.

The tenants would be the religious leaders.

Those same religious leaders who had just  had an altercation with Jesus after He had turned over the tables in the temple.

The servants sent by the owner represented the prophets.

We get this from Jeremiah 25 verse 4, “Though the Lord has sent his servants the prophets to you again and again you have not listened or paid any attention.”

These servants were killed or injured.

On hearing about this the owner then sends his own son who he reckons will be respected

That man we recognise as Jesus.

When the owner’s son arrived they assumed the owner had died so they said to each other,

“If we get rid of him we can have the vineyard.”

The owner, finding his son had been killed, threw out the tenants.

He then gave the  vineyard to new tenants who we take to be gentiles.

It seems that Jesus was telling the story of his own life and that may be so.

The reference in verses 10 and 11 comes directly from Psalm 118  verse 22.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone.”

A Jewish traditional tale tells of the building of Solomon’s temple.

A stone was found which seemed to have no purpose and was thrown away.

Later when the chief capstone was missing the rejected stone was found to fit exactly.

This parable was obviously intended for the religious leaders of the time but we have to ask ourselves has it any relevance for today.

Probably the story as it is has very little.

We are not neither Israel nor Jews

So what do I make of it.

This allegorical story clearly describes the climax of God’s dealings with his people and seems to make clear the special and unique place that Jesus knew himself to hold in God’s scheme of things.

It also hints, rather ominously of the dreadful judgement on the Jews that follows their rejection of God’s last appeal.

The famous speech by Stephen in Acts 7 was a sermon on this parable.

The result of that was that he was stoned to death.

It would be easy to use this parable to denounce the Jewish people.

Known today as anti-semitism

Mark certainly makes the claim that God has rejected significant numbers of Jewish people.

The Bible, without doubt, suggests that God punishes those who break promises.

But, in Jewish tradition, such punishment was typically for the purpose of encouraging repentance and return to blessing.

Mark, however, bypasses that tradition in favour of claiming that many Jewish people face complete destruction.

As a Christian I struggle with this interpretation.

From my point of view I firmly believe that God’s love is unconditional.

Why do I believe that.

The Bible says so

If we agree with this story that God will destroy the tenants, then we believe that God’s love is conditional.

Unfortunately people who believe that can also produce Bible verses to support it.

All of  them quotes from the Old Testament

If you believe that God gives us a choice and then destroys us if we make the wrong one, then your God is a different God  from the one I believe in.

You are, of course, free to have that belief.

I believe God is active in every situation to offer his love through us.

I think we heard of good examples of that from Carol on Monday evening at the service of wholeness and healing.

I see it as part of my role to believe that all are welcome in the vineyard regardless of their situation.

Not only to believe it but act according to that belief.

That for me means accepting everyone as being made in the image of God.

You may see this passage differently to me.

That would be your choice and I would have no problem with that.

For me, though, God, as represented by Jesus, is a God of unconditional love.