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.