Father, it is so easy to get out of the habit of beginning my day with your word, and it is so hard to get back into that habit. Yet I know that when I don’t begin with your word, the path for my day is a bit dimmer (or sometimes a lot darker!) This morning it was so tempting to hit the ground running at my desk at 7:30 AM. But no—not today. Today, my work can wait, because I need the sustenance that can only come from the bread that is “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Instruct me today so that my life may be lived fully for your glory.
This morning’s passage is Mark 12:1-12:
And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. (Mark 12:1-12 ESV)
My reflection on this passage is very simple: God has planted a glorious kingdom all over planet earth, and God has entrusted the care of that kingdom, the nurturing of that kingdom, the flourishing of that kingdom, to humanity. In the context of this parable Jesus told, he was referring to the Israelites—that God had entrusted God’s kingdom to a people who had largely lost sight of the goals and had stopped bearing the fruit of that kingdom. It had become a way of keeping people out, not welcoming people in. It had become a means of elevating religious leaders in order to glorify them, rather than elevating the poor out of their poverty, the lonely out of their loneliness, the sick out of their sickness, the oppressed out of their oppression, etc. God sent his prophet, John the baptist, to try to turn them back to the original mission of the kingdom, but that didn’t work. Finally, God sent his own son, Jesus, and they nailed him to a cross. So God took the kingdom away from the Israelites and gave the kingdom to anyone—Jew or Gentile—who would “produce its fruit.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Jesus is serious about fruit. How serious? “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” Um, pretty darn serious.
So that’s the historical context of this parable, but it’s not enough to simply know the context as it related to the hearers of the day (Jewish leaders) and then go happily on my way into my day. Because I’m part of a religious system, too: the organized Christian church, in all its chaos and disparity and disunity. She’s messy, for sure, but she’s the bride of Christ, and he loves her with an everlasting love. But this system is just as vulnerable to the waywardness as the Israelite system was. Today, I am one of the “tenants” God has entrusted his kingdom to, and I, and my fellow Christians, are just as likely to co-opt God’s good kingdom. Rather than making our life’s work about tending to it and nurturing it and helping it to flourish, we are consistently tempted to make it our own. We change the rules when we don’t like them, or even create rules that don’t actually exist in order to maintain some control over our mini-kingdoms within The Kingdom. We have made the focus of the kingdom on our own glory rather than on God’s. And we have done this so much that even when Christ himself shows up in our kingdom, we don’t recognize him, or even if we do recognize him, we don’t welcome him.
Jesus says the kingdom of God will be “given to others”—entrusted to those who will bear its fruit. And, once again, what is the fruit of God’s kingdom? What should a faithful tenant see growing on the vines of our lives if we are living in God’s kingdom?
Here are just a few ideas. A faithful tenant will see the fruit of worship—the recognition of Jesus Christ as the son of God (verse 6). A faithful tenant will see the fruit of prayer—praying for healing, spiritual liberation, and other miracles (Mark 16:115-18). A faithful tenant will care deeply about justice, will love to show mercy, and will walk in humility and submission to God (Micah 6:6-8). A faithful tenant will be loving, joyful, a peace-maker (and a peace-filled person), patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled (Galatians 5:21-22.) A faithful tenant will worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). A faithful tenant will be poor in spirit, tender-hearted, meek, hungry & thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peace-maker, and prepared to face persecution for their faith by turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:3-11, 39). A faithful tenant is not self-seeking, envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. A faithful tenant does not insist on her own way, is not irritable or resentful, and she does not rejoice at wrongdoing. (1 Cor 13:4-7).
The list goes on, but this is the heart of it. And since no one can live up to these things perfectly, all the time, a faithful tenant is humble enough to regularly confess her sins to God and renew her commitment to rely on God’s mercy and God’s strength to faithfully tend the kingdom. (1 John 1)
My goal in daily Bible study is to move into my days with a deeper intention to live for Christ, to be committed to tending God’s kingdom in every little corner of my life. (And my goal in writing this blog is to encourage others—you!—to do the same thing!) From coffee shop meetings to public speaking, from the work I do as a consultant to the people I meet in the grocery store, I want God to find in me a heart that is fully his (2 Chron 16:9). Yet my natural tendencies are more like the tenants the Landowner entrusted his vineyard to: selfishness and, yes, even a violent reaction against the good things of God. My prayer for today is that I will approach my life with the thoughtfulness and care of a faithful tenant, recognizing that nothing is “mine,” but I have been entrusted as a steward—from how I handle the money God has entrusted to me to how I handle the relationships—and I am expected to bear good fruit. Of course, my part is actually quite small—God’s part is quite big. This good fruit comes quite easily when I walk in step with the spirit of God, am devoted to prayer and fed by God’s word. So let’s do that together, shall we?