God's Vineyard

September 3, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 12:1-12

The Lord Of The Vineyard And The Peasants

1. It is a parable from the Lord that we read today. The scripture says of that parable that "he had begun to speak to them." Who are "they?" When we read the previous chapter, we find that this is a message spoken to "the chief priests, the scribes of the law, and the elders," (11:27). The Lord had spoken as follows to the leaders of Israel.

2. "A certain man built a vineyard, surrounded it with a fence, dug out a press, set up a lookout wall, lent it to the peasants and then went out on a journey," (verse one).

3. This is the setup of the scene. We should probably regard "the peasants-farmers" found in this parable as pointing to the leaders of Israel to whom Jesus was speaking directly. Therefore, then, [we could] say "the master" is God and the vineyard is Israel. The master of the vineyard, the scripture says, "lent it to the peasants and went out on a journey." At this point the text is speaking of the trust of the master. The master trusts the peasants and turns over the management of the vineyard to them. Having trusted the peasants, the master gives them the work in the vineyard. But, the peasants betray [their] master's trust. The peasants forget their positions and acted as if they were the vineyard owners. That's this parable. Jesus is saying that the same thing as this has been happening in Israel, and it still happens today, doesn't it?

4. The high priests and the Pharisees stood over the people. The reason they were in this leadership position was that God trusted them and had given them a role as leaders. But, they betrayed God's trust and they acted as if they themselves were the owners of Israel. Their problem, into which Jesus saw straight through, was in a nutshell that "they couldn't tell that a peasant was a peasant."

5. Well, the reason we're reading this story here right now is that this is also a problem of ours. The figure of Israel is a miniature copy of the world. The way these leaders are is often times even the way we are.

6. The master of this world is God. Humanity did not create this world. Just as it has that God had "built a vineyard, surrounded it with a fence, dug out a press, set up a lookout wall...," he built this world. Furthermore, he placed human beings inside the world, trusted them and turned over its management to them. We might say, "I believe in God" or "I do not believe in God," but even before that, God has believed in us. However, as we see right now, human beings are acting like they are the owners of this world. They are acting like they build this world themselves. But, beginning with environmental issues, humankind looks like it is having many real problems. But, the fact is there is one basic problem. It is that [humankind] "can't tell that a peasant is a peasant." It is that they are unable to discern their lot and position in life, and so they have rejected God as their true master.

7. We could say that even about an individual's life. We live looking like we are the owners of our lives and we are the master. Even if we're thinking of the future, we only think "If I live 'my life' a certain way, will it lead to a fulfilled and meaningful [life]?" But, whether it's our abilities or our wealth, we are entrusted with their management. The things we are entrusted with individually are different. But, either way regardless, we respond to God's trust for us and use them for the glory of God. That's the real essence of life. But, we often forget that we are peasants. That's truly unfortunate. We look like we're having so many problems in life. But, the truth is the base problem is singular, just one. It is that "[we] can't tell that a peasant is a peasant."

The Lord Keeps Calling Out

8. With that the parable continues on as follows. "As it became time for the harvest, in order to receive the vineyard's harvest, [the master] sent his servant to the peasants. But, the peasants seized the servant, gave him a beating, and sent him back not letting him have anything. Then again after that, he sent another servant, but the peasants struck him in the face, and insulted him. And so he sent another one, but this time they killed him. He sent still many other servants, but some were beaten, some were killed," (verses two through five).

9. The master sends "servants" to the peasants who cannot tell that they are peasants. When speaking with respect to Israel, the servants who were sent [to Israel] are the men called "the prophets." For the high priests hearing this, John the Baptizer would fit the description. The word prophet just doesn't mean somebody who predicts the future. Just as [we] write "a custodian of the word" in Japanese, they are men entrusted with the Word of God and tell it forth. The prophets could be defined as God's calling out to [Israel]. God sent prophets to Israel and [God] called out to them over and over again to "turn back." [God] called out to them to "live as peasants, not like owners of the vineyard." In this way then, [God] called out to them to return back to their true relationship.

10. But, even with that, something totally astonishing is said in this parable. It is not the peasants always insulting or killing the servants. It is the fact that the master had sent servants "over and over again." The master had the power to annihilate the peasants immediately, (verse nine). That's an assumption in this parable. When you think about that, the fact that the master had sent his servants over and over again leads us only to say how astonishing that is. The peasants gave the servants sent to them a beating, and ended up killing them. That kind of thing went on. Nevertheless, the master still "sent many servants." The master refused to settle the matter with the power he had to suddenly destroy them. He wanted to settle by means of calling out to them with great patience and persistence.

11. Indeed, and that's not all. This parable goes on to show us a surprising development. It is written like this, "He still had another man, his beloved son. He said, 'If [I send] my own son, perhaps they will honor me,' and he sent his son at last," (verse six). We might just have to say that the master's actions were foolish in deviating from the normal course. "Perhaps they will honor me, if it's my own son." -- The peasants have been insulting and killing [my] servants so far and [I wonder if they] will disrespect [him] even though [he's my] son. This is a very foolish decision.

12. But, the very actions of this master which can only be described as foolish is the central interest of this parable. Through this parable Jesus is speaking about God, "My father God is like that." "He said, 'If [I send] my own son, perhaps they will honor me,' and he sent his son at last." -- Jesus was speaking as "the son" that was sent at last. As "the son" he is saying that my father God has been so foolish as this so far, a foolish God.

13. Perhaps some people may feel resistance to the term "a foolish God." However, doesn't the act of loving at times lead to utter foolishness? Even though he was betrayed he still believed, even though he was insulted he still was patient, and when he was ready to love them and still receive their defective receptions -- he must be foolish. Isn't that what he was? At the least, the love God himself had shown was that kind of love.

14. If there is what society calls "a wise God" as people typically imagine, what might have happened if he were in opposition to this? The dreadful judgment of God should have fallen long ago. [It should have fallen] upon them and even upon us. But, God did not do that. Though foolish, he said, "If [I send] my own son, perhaps they will honor me," and he sent his son at the end. In this way then, he had sent Jesus Christ into the world. This act has become the ultimate demonstration of God's will. Jesus has shown with his own body, as the son which [God] had sent at the end, that God does not want to destroy wielding his power, but he wants us to turn.

The Rejected Stone Becomes The Chief Cornerstone

15. Thus, as the son was sent according to the foolishness of God, Jesus himself had spoken this parable. And because he was sent according to the folly of God, he also understood what would become of his own self.

16. This parable goes on to add the following. "The peasants spoke with each other. 'This is the heir. Hey, let's kill him. By doing that then, the inheritance will become ours.' Then they seized the son and killed him, and threw him outside the vineyard," (verses seven and eight). Jesus had understood it. As a matter of fact, after a few days, Jesus Christ would be crucified and killed on Golgotha's hill which lied right outside of Jerusalem.

17. Finally Jesus asked the chief priests a question. "Well, what will the master of this vineyard do?" Then, he answered his own question himself. "He must come back and kill the peasants and give the vineyard to some other people," (verse nine). This is the appropriate conclusion that one would forecast.

18. But, please take notice that Jesus did not include this conclusion into this parable at all whatsoever. The story up to the very end only goes that "they seized the son and killed him, and threw him outside the vineyard." In short, those hearing this parable would be made to stand between the time the son was murdered and the time of the judgment due from the master, which hadn't happened yet. [Judgment day was still postponed for them and a chance to respond to God's grace was genuinely offered to them.]

19. We, too, are hearing this question from the Lord standing at the same point [but in a different time] and hearing this parable. "They seized the son and killed him, and threw him outside the vineyard." -- One can also say that's what the Jewish leaders at that time have done. But, one can also say that is what we human beings have done. God sent his only son Jesus Christ into this world. It was the final message spoken from God to the world. God demonstrated that he does not want to destroy [us] with his power, but he wants us to return to the originally intended relationship with Him. In spite of that, we human beings ended up murdering the Christ. We live in the world that has murdered Christ. We are one of the human beings who have murdered Christ. In that condition such as we are, we are being asked a question [or two]. "What will the master of the vineyard do? What do you feel about it?"

20. But, the Lord says this to that: "[He is] the stone rejected by the builders of the house, this has become the chief cornerstone. This is what the Lord has done, this is marvelously visible right before our very eyes." "The stone rejected by the builders of the house" means "Jesus Christ." Jesus was certainly rejected by the hands of men and women. His being crucified on the cross means exactly that. It looked like God's final call out would end up returning void. But, it didn't end like that. Instead, it says that that a decisively brand new thing began from there. It says the stone that was expected to be rejected became the chief cornerstone of the new house.

21. It is just as Jesus said it was. The rejected and crucified Jesus Christ became the atoning sacrifice for our sins. From there the gospel of the forgiveness of sins began to be proclaimed anew. The church was born. Jesus Christ certainly did become the cornerstone of the church. In that form God has continued to call out for repentance. God is still calling out even right now to this world which has nailed Christ to the cross, and he is beckoning [everyone in the world] right now into his grace.