Jesus 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 watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others 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.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:1-8)
Today’s parable is not fiction. Most often, a parable is. That’s the definition: a story that conveys a spiritual truth. But today’s parable has been enacted over and over again, most recently in Kansas City, where three people were shot to death this week in a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home, one day before the start of the Passover. Ironically, the victims were Christians, but their deaths reecall so many Jewish deaths, in so many places, even, in the events we remember this week, in Jerusalem.
The story Jesus tells is simple enough, but at its heart lies the ultimate form of spiritual sickness. Not the selfishness of the tenants, nor their reluctance to pay the landowner (who stands in for God) what they owe, but a bitter root of rage that leads us to think that our lives are somehow blighted if some other person or group of people is allowed to exist, as if the sun that shines on me will be paler and less golden if it also shines on one other person who lives and breathes on this earth.
The terms God gives us are simple enough: love one another, which means, give one another life, as God has given it to you. Tomorrow, we will come to Maundy Thursday. We will gather and eat; we will share Holy Communion; we will wash one another’s feet; and then we will go, together, to wait in a garden, a garden in which a man beloved of God was cut down and betrayed, one day before the Passover.
That man, Jesus, died so that others would not have to. He paid the price for all of us, so that we might freely live. Those who corrupt that teaching and use his death as an excuse to kill others — Jews, Muslims, blacks, whites, women, men, gay people, Klan members, anyone at all — have fallen so far from the truth that they have utterly lost sight of Christ’s face.
That does not obliterate the work and death and grace of Christ. Rather, God works through our very confusion and sin to bring about God’s purposes. The psalmist writes, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
God does what God wills. But that does not vindicate us or excuse our refusal to walk in God’s ways. What God has asked of us is so very little: love one another. Is that really so hard to do?