“A man planted a vineyard…then he leased it to tenants. But those tenants seized his son, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do?” – Mark 12:1, 7-9
A man plants a vineyard (aka “God creates the world”). He leases it to some tenants (that’s God’s people). The man sends a series of slaves (i.e. the prophets) to collect what’s due, and they all get beaten and/or killed. Finally, the owner sends his son (that’s Jesus), who gets killed, too.
I slip so easily into almost every role in this story. I’m God, filled with anger at injustice. I’m the slaves/prophets, preaching the truth to those who don’t welcome it. Some days—remember I’m confessing here—I’m the Son himself, persecuted unto death. The world is just so full of terrible people, you know? It can get real hard for holy people like Jesus and me.
Who I never seem to be is one of the tenants, responsible for what’s wrong with the world. Not only is this ridiculous, it also makes me either dumber, more sinful—or both—than Jesus’ original hearers. They knew very well who Jesus said they (and I) were in the story; they even wanted to attack him for it.
Now that I think about it, this is how my readings of most parables go. Comfortable distance, comforting identifications, easy avoidance. From now on I think I need to try to be like those original hearers. If I read a parable and I’m not personally outraged at what Jesus has just said, I’m going to assume I’ve read it wrong.
God, if I encounter your Word and I’m not offended, help me stick with it till you’ve thoroughly ticked me off. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.