The gospel is always dangerous with its challenge, its radical statements and its unflinching truth. But these two passages are often (mis)appropriated to make them even more so.

The background to this passage is that it is written around the time of the destruction of the temple, under fierce Roman oppression following an uprising by those under occupation. It was a tough time to be part of the Jewish or the fledgling Christian community. A familiar pattern in times of change, when established ideas and patterns are being established is a jostling for position, creating clearer divisions and separation. Centuries old tradition is being thrown into doubt and there is the inevitable kick back reaction.

The Vineyard, an image for and of Israel, is now a symbol of dispute. A new group, known as Christians are laying claim to an inheritance. Those who first heard Mark’s gospel would have heard it very differently than we do today. Their interpretation, in their context, would have identified the religious authorities of their day, the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders as the tenants of the Vineyard of whom Jesus spoke. For new Christians, Jesus’ parable would have confirmed, for them, that they were the new inheritors of the way of Jesus.

Today, Christians are not in that position of being a new fledgling group needing to establish rights with God at the expense of others. Instead, we might see this parable as an invitation to examine ourselves in the context of the kingdom. And to see that kingdom, not as a given right or inheritance, but, as an invitation into community, connecting and responding generously to one another.

The alternative passage offered this week is another of those interrogation scenarios that Jesus regularly encountered on his way to the cross, a set up intended to entrap him and justify his persecution by the authorities. Even his interrogators could not fail to be amazed at how well he answered.

Both these stories this week provide a backdrop in which we might ponder:

  • What do we consider as our inheritance?
  • How do we use our resources?
  • How do we welcome others into community?

Please share, in the comments, where you are going with these passages this week, as you prepare to preach with God’s people.

The Working Preacher commentary, as always, is very helpful.




7 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: A different perspective (Mark 12:1-12 or 12:13-17)

  1. My wife loves the movie Newsies, the story of New York kids in the 20s standing up for fair wages. She and her friends new every dance move and every lyric. Last weekend we went to go see the Newsies stage production. It was great sitting next to my giddy wife as she relived her childhood.

    In the last scene, Teddy Roosevelt’s character says something to the effect of “when a generation reaches its height of power it must turn that power over to the younger generation.” It was quite the interesting line. As we drove home, singing along to the movie soundtrack and talking about the show, she had a realization.

    When she fell in love with that story she was one of the younger generation. She was asking for, hoping for, demanding a voice, power, or a say in her life. Now as an adult at nearly the height of her “power” it’s her turn to let go.

    When reading this text, especially the context in which it is written versus our current context it has got me thinking. I’m not sure what to do with it yet, but I thought it was important.

    Can we see our own changing context, power dynamics, etc.?


  2. I moved some things around these first couple of weeks of Lent in order to include the (first) entry into Jerusalem in its place chronologically. So I did that last week. I set myself up to focus on all of the rest of the events we cover in Lent to be read in light of this entry into Jerusalem – – Jesus’s purposeful arrival that sets the (peaceful, life-pursuing) kingdom of God up against the (violent, destructive) empire of the Roman oppressors. Months ago I figured I’d choose the coin passage, but now I think I need to go the way of the vine and vineyard. Maybe I’ll end up reading both. Someone said something in my text study on Monday about the fact that there are some destructive ideas/principles/forces (trying to avoid saying people) that need to be destroyed. Or maybe — something that just came to me right now — there are some destructive alliances and sources of authority that need to be destroyed? Again, not people, not groups, but maybe unhealthy, unholy relationships – – where does the church work alongside or benefit from or ride on the waves of racism or classism? The chapter designation sort of ruins this flow, but this vineyard parable comes right on the heels of and in the same conversation as the question about by whose authority Jesus asks.

    These passion week scenes are so hard to talk about while also avoiding the Jewish blame game. Because that’s not it at all, but it’s so hard not to sound like that is it.

    I’m still in a pondering and questioning mode much later in the week than I prefer because of two members who are dying and the pastoral care needs within those families. I’m digging around in these authority and destruction questions for the most part right now, though. I need to find a way forward with them that’s more solid – – or move on completely.


  3. I have been thinking about the “amazement” of the religious leaders in this second scene. They come in full of fake sincerity thinking “We got this guy” and he turns the tables on those who thought they were in charge.

    It is making me think about who is in charge our lives, our destinies, our time, our ministry, our way of showing our faith in the world. Who is in charge? God? or someone else’s ideas and rules of how and who we should be?

    How can we take charge of our own relationship with God, our own understanding of Jesus when our faith has been kidnapped and beaten and just short of killed off completely?

    Can we be amazed by ourselves? Are we able to be the “courageous ones” we are looking for to take back our faith from those who have kidnapped it?


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