The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Some Sad Facts
Time to get serious. The sad fact is that throughout history, some Christians have persecuted and killed innumerable Jewish people. The Holocaust was in part motivated by scientific theories of race and nature, but throughout much of history, other brutal massacres were motivated by theological ideas, some of which found their inspiration in texts of the New Testament.
One of these ideas is "supersessionism," the belief that the Christian church replaces (that is, "supersedes") Israel or the Jews as God's chosen people.
A Wicked Parable
In The Parable of the Wicked Tenants, this idea starts to rear its head (12:1-12). In the presence of the Jewish leadership, Jesus tells a suggestive story about an owner who leases his vineyard out to tenant-farmers. When rent is due, the owner sends his servant to collect what is owed, but they beat him and send him away with nothing. The owner sends more servants, who are treated the same way—some of them are even killed. Finally, the owner sends his own "beloved son." Guess what's happens? That's right—they kill him, assuming they'll receive his inheritance.
What does this all mean? That the Jewish leadership is going to reject Jesus (as they fully understand in 12:12).
When Jesus asserts that the owner will take justice into his own hands, come to the vineyard, and destroy the farmers, it reminds us of something. Or at least it would have reminded early readers of something: the destruction of the temple by the Romans in the year 70. Is Mark implying that the temple's destruction is the result of the Jewish leadership's rejection of Jesus?
That's hard enough to swallow, but the next words are actually the key. After the owner destroys the farmer, he "will give the vineyard to others" (12:9). Translation? There will be a changeover of leadership to Christians, who accept that Jesus is the rejected cornerstone (12:10-11).
Supersessionism's Calling You Out
Wait a second, though. This may stink of supersessionism, but remember that it's directed toward the Jewish leaders alone and not to the Jewish crowds in general. The crowds seems to actually disagree with their leaders about Jesus (12:12; compare 11:18). Also, this brand of rhetoric is used by Jews against other Jews elsewhere in contemporary Jewish literature.
That said, there are still a lot of questions to think about:
• Just because Mark's Jesus thinks it, do you have to believe it?
• What are the differences between Mark's early Jesus-believing community—which was a minority and itself an offshoot of Judaism—and the later Christian movement?
• Is Jesus's parable deserved or uncalled for?