Posted on August 27, 2014
#68: Targeted for Transformation
I love the parables of Jesus—the prodigal son, the sower, the lost sheep, the mustard seed, the pearl of great price, and many more. Jesus was a master teller of “simple” stories with layers of meaning that commentators centuries later are still excavating.
The twelve disciples enjoyed an advantage—the opportunity to ask Jesus privately to explain His parables. At one of those times the disciples questioned Him, “Why do You speak to the people in parables?”
Jesus answered, “The knowledge of the secrets of heaven’s kingdom has been given to you, but not to them. . . . This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’ In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ ” (Mt. 13:10ff)
In essence Jesus was saying, “Anyone who wants to understand badly enough to focus his sight, tune in his hearing, and open his heart will be rewarded. He’ll be changed, turned, transformed. He’ll be healed, made whole.”
Welcome to Knowing Jesus, our study of Mark’s gospel—and specifically our present look at the last week of Jesus’ life in human flesh. Get your Bible, pray for open eyes and ears, and prepare your heart.
Read Mark 12:1-12. Also take a moment to look at parallel accounts in Matthew 21:33-46 and Luke 20:9-19.
Just a few days remained until the cross. Jesus was spending His days in Jerusalem’s temple teaching, aware that His enemies were watching every move and listening to every word. Over the past few years, they’d heard Him present many parables that were hard to understand. But on this day He told a parable with a crystal-clear message, one He wanted them to get. They could choose to open their hearts, receive that message, and be healed. Or they could turn deaf ears and reject His message.
Jesus introduced a vineyard owner who set up a vineyard. (The Jews’ leaders—and all Jews familiar with the prophets—would understand the vineyard owner to be God, from Isaiah’s prophetic allegory about God’s carefully-tended people Israel who rebelled and failed to bear fruit. Check out Isaiah 5:1-7 and 27:2-3.) With meticulous care the owner prepared his vineyard for fruitfulness, leaving nothing to chance. Then he asked, “What more could’ve been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” (Is. 5:4)
The owner (God) left his vineyard in the care of tenant farmers or stewards. They misused their position, abused the owner’s messengers, and finally killed the owner’s beloved son in hopes of gaining complete power over the owner’s estate. The listening leaders could’ve easily identified themselves as the parable’s villains—especially since some of them were smack in the midst of plotting Jesus’ death at that very moment.
There was no missing the meaning of this parable. He was calling them out, exposing their thirst for power, asking them to acknowledge Him as the Son of God and submit to His authority. They got it, loud and clear. And they were furious, but too cowardly to take public action for fear of the crowds who adored Jesus.
Jesus finished His parable with a quote from the Hallel—the famous set of Passover psalms that included these verses from Psalm 118:22-23 (the same source as His earlier Hallel quote in Mark 11:9-10, from Psalm 118:25-26). Attaching a new significance, He recited, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” As the cornerstone of a new temple (Ephesians 2:20-22, 1 Peter 2:4-8), Jesus was a threat to the “stewards” of the old one. They wouldn’t embrace Him, which left nothing to do but eliminate Him.
So what about us? How do we respond when His teachings target our weaknesses? What do we do when His Word makes us squirm because we know He’s describing us? Do we open our hearts to receive His message and His healing—or do our calloused hearts stubbornly cling to our way, unchanged? Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear what He wants to say to us?
Jesus used one of His last teaching opportunities to plead for open eyes, ears and hearts. He longs to make us whole, transforming us into His likeness (2 Cor. 5:17, 21; Col. 3:10). Will we let Him?
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© Diane McLoud 2014