"What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes?"' (Mark 12:9–11)
The more you study a passage and become so familiar with it, the easier it becomes to overlook details that don’t fit your established Gestalt. The parables are that way for me, having done my doctoral dissertation on them and written so much subsequently. Maybe the best thing you can do is listen to someone preach them who has never gone to seminary and has no clue about all the scholarly debates that seem so central to so many.
That happened to me at my church, Scum of the Earth, last Sunday night, by way of Jesse Heilman, one of our pastors who preaches infrequently but always challenges me. Thanks to a number of years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, he does inductive Bible study before turning to the commentaries as faithfully as anyone I know. His assignment was to preach on the parable of the wicked tenants (Mark 12:1–12) as part of a series on Mark’s Gospel that we began early last spring.
If you immerse yourself in parable scholarship, you quickly discover that, rather understandably, most of the focus is on the plot and the characters of the story itself (vv. 1–9). While people still debate whether or not Jesus used allegory and, if he did, how much, the parable is undeniably allegorical. The only question is where to draw lines. At the very least, Jesus is borrowing the Song of the Vineyard from Isaiah 5:1–7 to show how the rebellion against God on the part of Israel’s leadership is playing out in his day, even as it was in the eighth century BC. Like their ancestors who persecuted and at times even murdered the prophets, like Herod Antipas who quite recently had John the Baptist beheaded, the temple authorities are not giving God the fruit that is due him. Soon they will crucify his one and only beloved Son, Jesus, and cast him out of the city. What then will God do? Why destroy those wicked tenants and give the vineyard to others who will be more faithful—the multi-ethnic group of followers of Jesus.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to quote Psalm 118:22–23. In at least some strands of pre-Christian Judaism, this appears to have already been interpreted in a Messianic fashion. The crucifixion of Messiah is not the end for him; he will be resurrected and exalted to the right hand of the Father. The stone the builders rejected will become the cornerstone. First Peter 2:7 quotes this identical text, possibly alluding to Jesus’s use of it here, in a context in which Jesus’s followers are living stones being built into a holy, spiritual temple. If the cornerstone is rejected by humanity, many of the living stones will be also. Jesus in Mark has already taught, in the context of preaching his coming passion and death that those who would be his disciples would follow on the same path, carrying their own crosses (Mark 8:34).
What part of the parable of the wicked tenants do you focus on, then, when preaching to a congregation, a disproportionate number of which come from serious life experiences that truly qualify them as “the least, the last, and the lost”? Why, this rejection, of course! And just as we must die with Christ, we will be raised and exalted with him (Ephesians 2:4–6).
People often ask me what made me leave my comfortable suburban megachurch for Scum of the Earth. It’s a long story, just as the journey was a very slow and gradual one. But the part of the story I don’t usually tell—and, quite honestly, don’t often think about as I’m telling the story—is my own sense of being rejected by an awful lot of people as I was growing up. Not my family—they were amazing. But as a kid who was not much of an athlete, not very good looking, and both a nerd and a geek before those words were invented (their predecessor was “egghead”), someone who excelled in academics, was proud of it, and sometimes showed off a bit too much as a result, I never had very many friends my age at any stage of schooling. Then I discovered Campus Life in high school my sophomore year—the year I was experiencing more isolation and rejection than ever as a brand new student in a massive three-year high school of over 2,500 students. I discovered how one could have a living relationship with the Lord of the universe who loved and accepted you unconditionally. But I came to internalize that message, which I had always cognitive believed at some level but never terribly much experienced only through the kindness and friendship of new friends who didn’t care about all the things that led others to reject me. Remarkably, some of them were even upperclassmen!
I would never have imagined joining Scum because I would never have imagined the next generation of young adults, who were in to the kinds of things that uniformly made people like them reject me when I was in high school, turn out to actually accept me, as a Christian brother and at times perhaps a father figure, perhaps one they never really had. Some of them appear even to think it’s kind of “cool” to have a seminary professor as one of them! Who’d have ever “thunk” it!
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The little stones that all of us are sooner or later will be rejected—by the world if we’re at all faithful in letting people know what we stand for and believe, no matter how tactful we try to be—and, more tragically, by some in the church who don’t share the same passions and commitments we do. But, like good chips off the old block, we too can look forward to co-resurrection and co-exaltation. And it is marvelous in our eyes!
Dr. Craig Blomberg
Dr. Craig Blomberg joined the faculty of Denver Seminary in 1986. He is currently a distinguished professor of New Testament. Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, and he received an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a BA from Augustana College. Before joining the faculty of Denver Seminary, he taught at Palm Beach Atlantic College and was a research fellow in Cambridge, England with Tyndale House.