Mark 12:1-12 - How Entitled Are We?
12 Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. 5 Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so, it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally, he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this scripture:
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
12 When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So, they left him and went away.
Our passage this week begins a new chapter in Mark’s gospel, but it could easily be a continuation of Jesus’ encounter with the Chief Priests, scribes, and elders in the previous chapter. In Mark 11:27-33, the Temple leaders challenge Jesus’ authority in the Temple. Here in Mark 12:1-12, Jesus uses the story of the wicked tenants as a direct attack on the Chief Priests, scribes, and elders. They have no idea of Jesus’ real role as Messiah.
Jesus makes a direct comparison between the wicked tenants who occupy a property that they do not own and the religious leaders who occupy the Temple that they do not own. Reading this passage carefully shows us that Jesus paints the wicked tenants as the kind of individuals you would never want to meet. The Temple leaders were so corrupt that their actions were the equivalent of assaulting and killing others.
To make our present passage even more salient for the Temple leaders who were already plotting to kill Jesus, Jesus inserts himself as the heir, the son who the landowner sends to interact with the wicked tenants. The heir is killed along with others. Jesus predicts his own death and then asks a critical question, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?” and goes on to explain that the landowner will destroy the tenants and pass the vineyard on to others. In other words, “Priest, scribes, and elders, do not think you are so special that God won’t remove you from your positions of power and hand the reins to someone else.”
Once the religious leaders realized that Jesus was actually talking about them, they wanted to retaliate immediately by arresting Jesus. But because of their fear of the crowd, a crowd that had recently welcomed Jesus into the city, the crowd that listened to every word that came from Jesus’ mouth, they left Jesus and went away.
The kind of entitlement that we see in this passage is a specific kind of religious entitlement that we rarely talk about. Religious entitlement removes God from the equation and places self at the center. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day allowed their pride to ease God out of the picture. Everything they did was in service to themselves and their occupiers, the Roman Empire. The remedy for such behavior is as follows:
1. Grace and Mercy – When we are compassionate toward others, showing them grace and mercy, we are putting ourselves in the shoes of others and are able to feel with the other.
The leaders did not care for orphans, widows, those in prison, resident aliens, or the most disenfranchised in the city.
2. Gratitude – When we are grateful for what we have, we can receive and accept the gifts of God as precious things to behold. It is our gratitude that allows us to accept life on life’s terms, to be okay with what we have, and to not be focused on what we don’t have.
The leaders weren’t grateful for the “priestly gift of servanthood,” instead they wanted to lay claim to the Temple and all that went with it.
3. Responsibility – When we can accept responsibility for ourselves and fulfill the obligations of our positions, especially our roles in the church, then we become trusted servants of God. We are able to recognize the hard work required to be fully present for others and to do what is necessary to keep people connected and to know they are seen and heard.
The leaders did not fulfill the obligations of their trusted position, but instead were lazy with their efforts while still expecting God to bless them.
God is calling us to be more like Jesus. Our lives are to mimic Jesus’ life, to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Jesus didn’t hesitate to call out the religious leaders of his day. He made a point of showing them their hypocrisy. We must be careful, though, to not use our own religious entitlement as a weapon, especially the kind of entitlement that says I am right, and you are wrong. Jesus calls all of us to check our privilege and entitlement. The more we understand who Jesus was, the more we can understand how we are to live.